Saturday, May 5, 2012

We are Informational Patterns....(Cheers)

For the record, the next number of blogs are going to be well out of order. I got behind and it gets harder and harder to play catch up (as obvious) especially if you try to keep things in order. So, I'm going out of order. Enjoy: Andy Clark, in Natural Born Cyborgs often surprised me. For the most part, I really enjoyed his writing. In a lot of way, it left me questioning some of my fundamental assumptions about what a cyborg really is. The most interesting part for me however, was to extend these ideas into what I think about videogames. You see, I tend to think about videogames through their interface. This includes looking at the controllers yes, but often goes quite a bit deeper than that. In videogames, the interface can account for everything from the controller, to the console, and into the software, where things like little red orbs can indicate health, and an idealized human figure can represent the player’s interaction with the game. In Clark’s ideas, he brings up the idea that “what is special about human brains, and what best explains the distinctive features of human intelligence, is precisely their ability to enter into deep and complex relationships with nonbiological constructs, props, and aids” (Clark 13). Human intelligence can be seen as an informational pattern, much the way that most programs in a computer are informational patterns. Mind you, the human intelligence is an extremely complicated informational pattern, but nonetheless, the fact that they are a pattern doesn’t change. Similarly, most software, hell, most objects, are also informational patterns. At foundational levels, they are patterns of molecules, shaped into things exist because of these very patterns. However, the patterns that we, as humans, use to define things go even further than that. The patterns of human society are usually written onto the objects around us, we literally write objects in order to influence or control their relationship to us. We apply this to rocks (which become stones for throwing, minerals for harvesting, etc.) and trees (look…wood!) and even other people (you are my friend, my lover, etc.). What is interesting about relationships is that, in each of them, we are never as fully in control as we think we are. While we believe that we are in control of the tool that we are using, the shovel, the computer, etc. is in service to us, when it can actually be looked at in a very different way. The tool can be an outside informational pattern that interfaces with us, using us to complete tasks that it could not complete on its own, and therefore extending its use. Most of the time these patterns are based on human designs, so when the computer is computing it uses humans to figure out what it is going to compute. Similarly, the shovel uses the human so that it can dig, and so it can figure out where to dig. Humans interactions with tools is in fact extending our patterns of action into them, and having their patterns of interaction extending into us. This is kinda an extension of a point I saw with Heidegger much earlier in the semester, but with less of a scary tone to it. We are part of a system, and in fact we are almost always extending our system to include the objects around us. We are informational patterns within larger informational patterns, interacting in ways that we can never really fully know. In this way, we are just like the tool, not so different in forms of being than they are, and therefore interesting in that way as well.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


There is something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile, something that crystalized a bit as I read for my class in posthumanism, as well as in my class on videogames. Technology, as scholars like Peter-Paul Verbeek and many of the people he quotes point out that technology is a kind of mediation. It puts layers in between us and the world around us. Technology serves to reveal layers of reality, but in doing so it is specifically framing it in such ways that constantly change the relationship between subject and object, and even object and surroundings. The unmediated experience, in this way of thinking, perhaps doesn’t exist, with even the tools of our hands changing our experience, moving us to different frames of understanding of the world around us (frames that we happily can move up and down through with quite a bit of ease). I ought to clarify a bit though…I am pulling this idea of framed ideas out of a reading for my videogame class, an essay by Mia Consalvo titled, “There is no Magic Circle.” It is an essay that refers to Erving Goffman’s book Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience and G.A. Fine’s book Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as Social Worlds and notes the fact that unlike what the early scholar of play, Huizinga, thought, that play didn’t necessarily create a magic circle that separated it from the world around it, but rather, as indicated by Goffman and Fine, that rather there is a frame system going on, one which Fine points out with games, allows us to move quickly from one layer of framing to another through a process of keying, that is, a set of introductions that can move us in and out of the a game world based on pieces of input (keys) that transform us to another frame of mind. This might be a puppy intruding with a happy face lick (yes, it’s happening right as I write this) or an insistent roommate, spouse, or phone that intrudes on the experience currently being played out.

While very relevant to understanding the social relationships of game players to the world around them, it seems to me that this idea of framing isn’t so far off to the way we are thinking about technologies mediation of experience…and even more interestingly, the way it mediates us. Technology, it seems to me, continually provides a context that we are working within at any particular point. It is part of a series of frames that we are interacting with at any one point, separating and filtering the world around us, deciding not only our relationship with whatever the mediated object is (whether that is game), but also very much deciding how we are perceivable as well. I know when I’m playing a game, and when I am writing a paper, where my face probably looks a bit zombieish, to say the least. The game in a certain way is setting up a frame for how I am perceived in the world around me…probably in part a reason I have trouble playing solo games when there is company about…even if I’m not particularly intent on interacting with that company.

But this goes for many other forms of technology as well. Verbeek speaks about how glasses, a low contrast technology, changes both the perception of the world in front of him, but also people’s perception of him, the subject as well. Being with or without the technology device creates different kinds of frames that he can interact with, especially true as the visual of the frames themselves insert themselves on his world. But there are keys into the movement to the inside and outside of these technological realms. Sometimes it is keyed up by our ability, or more appropriately, our inability to see, or read something (put the glasses back on), sometimes it’s the desire to see beyond our normal range of expectation…or to get a much closer frame of understanding (as in Verbeek’s example of the microscope). These create frames of understanding that we have to key in and out of in order to put them into relationship with the world we know as “reality” (I use the term loosely :) ). The microscope fundamentally changes our experience to such a degree that there needs to be bridges formed, keys in place, for us to even understand how the micro in some way effects the macro (science at its finest :) ), without which the technology becomes a frame through which we have a hard time forming a real relationship with. The frame is very permeable at any one point, and this is important, because we are constantly having to readjust to adjust to every movement of framing that we do in order to experience the world around us, letting both inner and outside influences change our direction, thereby letting me move from zombie gameplayer, or better yet typist, into casual participant in the house in the blink of an eye…as I’m going to do right now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

There is something about the readings that was interesting, but also slightly bothered me. Heidegger discusses the idea that “everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it” (1). In a very significant way, most of the readings today were about that chain…about the way in which we cannot really break away from the power and influence that technology has on us. This came in the form of actual, physical representations of chains, as in the story of “Harrison Bergeron,” where all people are chained by technology to be equal, but only by bringing the superior down, not by bringing the lowly up, but it also comes in the method of showing how we really are chained to the technologies around us. “I, Pencil,” while discussing the idea that nobody knows how to make…well…you know…almost anything, manages to demonstrate the ways in which technologies govern us. This goes beyond the physical representations of tools, but to the broader concepts of civilization. Civilization, under this conception, is a technology for organizing us in such a way that nobody really has control over their own lives, the ability to truly walk away from the system.

In other words…we are the technology.

We are the gears and the cogs that put us into service to a much larger system, one that can never, or at least almost never, care about any particular individual. It’s kinda scary really…and it really gives an interesting perspective to start a class about posthumanism on. Yes, technology does shape our lives. We are all changed by even the technologies today that seem relatively simple (at least in comparison)…”The Telephone” being an excellent example. But we have never really even lived outside this conception of technology. The group mentality, working together, is a systematic technology that subsumes the individual, and (though obviously I am no real expert on the distant past) I’m sure it’s one that we’ve put to use in hunting, gathering, and living, for almost as long as we have been human, and quite likely even before, when we were…um, prehuman? So which technological advance makes us posthuman then? When did it happen? How did we get to a point where suddenly we considered technology to have changed us to being beyond human? Is it the first time that the cogs couldn’t understand the larger system with relative ease…and therefore be in some kind of control of it? That seems possible, even likely to me, but again, it means we’ve been posthuman for a very, very long time then. Because the machines that govern us (and lets fully admit it, our iphones, laptops, and tablets very much govern us today) are only the latest incarnations of how technology has chosen roles for individuals, rather than individuals choosing roles for themselves. It seems we are likely to be a self-perpetuating system, where individuals seem to believe they have freedom, but where none of us really knows how to create much.

And to leap into my own field of study…this is perhaps a reason children are some of the most free of us (though probably less so as technology enters their lives earlier and earlier), because while controlled by a number of outside factors, they are still the most likely to attempt to create something with the basic building blocks around us. A stick, some mud…these are still interesting to them, and therefore still freeing. “I, Pencil” talks about wonder…and the way in which it is lost to us. I think this is part of being a cog…of not understanding what you create. The less we’re interested in how the technology works, how it is made, how to make it…the less we can even be involved in the wonder of these amazing technologies around us.

Scary much?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Another hour, another post...

In relation to what I just said in my last post, I was thinking about Visual Intelligence's conception of the way in which TV's are not photographs because the images on them are fleeting things, only to be seen for a split second before the next image is displayed for the audience, and how the TV can allow Forrest Gump to photo-realistically meet John F. Kennedy (57). Just like we have discussed in class, Ann Berry discusses the possible issues with being able to create fake realities for people to watch; she discusses how they could be used to manipulate people. What I wonder is what will happen is when we can do more than watch a prettily made lie on TV, but rather when we'll be able to interact with them in a videogame or virtual reality setting. What happens when the difference, expereince wise, in interacting with a real person, and interacting with a fake representation, is nil.

Audiences, to a certain degree, are already becoming somewhat prepared for this eventuality, as in text-based speech we already expect that people can fake their identity, and their purpose online. Heh, they can even fake a video link, all it takes is a is a decent understanding of the technological processes. Visual experiences are problematict, we tend to, as Barry points out, believe the News because it is the News, but also because it is visual. What happens when the visual is a much more immersive experience? How would this extremely hot (as in Marshall McLuhan's meaning of the word) medium push viewers to believe in new ways, and therefore have to learn a new technological savvy in order to understand how easy or difficult it might be to dupe the interfacer? Being in the middle of a news scene, and not having it seemingly framed in the same way TV is now (with the four corners of the TV pointing your angle of view in a single direction), would make it harder for people to question a news report, to challenge its validity. We would have to understand new frames of reference and therefore think of things not in terms of the TV screen framing, but the placement of the virtual device as a frame itself.

You get the idea...

Wow....this turned into a rather long post of nearly speculative fiction.

Well, hope you enjoy.

To a degree, this is probably already possible (though prohibitively expensive)
Let's see, which of the texts do I want to write about. Throughout this class I've been pushed more and more towards trying to think about visual, the creation of visual, and the experience of the viewer, in different ways. In my research into video games, I came across something rather was the idea of procedural rhetoric. Procedural rhetoric is an idea that Ian Bogost uses in relation to videogames. It is somewhat unusual, and also somewhat cool, and I think it has a distinct connection to what we've been doing in class.

Essentially the idea is that computers, computer programs, and pretty much everything else, have procedures to them. These procedures can range from the turning the page of a book to the complex procedures that go into interacting with a piece of technology. Cell phones, for example, have been going through a rather drastic change in procedural rhetoric over the last couple years...moving from a keypad system to a touchpad system that is supposed to be interconnective, but that also requires a larger knowledge of how to interface with the particular technology.

A procedure, just like an image, or a text, has meaning, has values attached to it, and just like with images and text, those values can be simple or complex. Bogost likes to examine the complex examples of political videogames through this lens. He points out how good political games force the player, through the procedures of the games, in order to see a particular point. A specific example he uses is of a videogame which lets you act as American forces dropping bombs to destroy terrorists. This game would show you through play that everytime you eliminate terrorist that you aren't going to be able to avoid hitting civilians. The mechanics, therefore, produce more terrorists, expontially, for every civilian you kill. The procedure demonstrates a losing battle against a terrorist threat, by forcing you to only have one option for interaction, an action that only produces problems rather than helps.

While Bogost's example is rather effective... he also doesn't move too far afield from videogames. Procedural rhetorics are visible in everything from our everyday jobs (what does the simple procedure of sitting behind a desk typing mean? What about being a teller at a bank? How do these two things produce different kinds of meanings through their procedures?) to the way in which art is produced (how do we go beyond analyzing a painting, to analyzing the persons entire way of painting? The gestures that they make, the times where artists simply throw paint at a canvas, what do all these mean?). What's more is, how can we take this to discuss rhetorics that we know in entirely new ways?

Also, considering how often we looked at technology in our class...what can we say about the procedures that computers themselves go through to perform any action that they do? These are more than simple machines, but rather are products of hundrds, if not thousands of procedures running in sequences. How does that change the way we see an image, a video, etc?

Something cool to think about.

Monday, March 21, 2011

There is a lot of discussion in WJT Mitchell’s text, Picture Theory, about what it actually means to discuss comparisons between images and texts. I think my favorite part of this, or at least the part that was most interesting for a discussion, was the idea that there is a tendency to do comparative work in relation to the broad concepts that are the framework for how we think about art/literature, etc, from a certain time period. His specific example is that in a course that “compares (say) cubist painting with the poems of Ezra Pound [...] the real subject of the course is not the image/text problem, but modernism” (88). This, while useful for modernism, isn’t quite as useful for conceiving the of the work with images and text; especially as the mediums that use these continue to advance in interesting and unexpected ways. Seeing as it will be my project as the semester moves on, I thought I would discuss video games a bit.

For those of you who don’t know, the Smithsonian has decided to do a exhibit on video games, and specifically, on video game art. For the record, this is awesome, a great step forward for the medium and hopefully an opening for people to start making games stretch the range of artistic exploration in the field, and hopefully a movement outside of our normal ideas of what a game should be (that is, the constant reliance on combat as an equation to equal fun).

However, when going through this, I couldn’t help but think that the first response of art critics, and perhaps of the critical approach in general, would be to make a comparison of video game art to the other kinds of artistic exhibits that travel through the Smithsonian on a regular basis. As Mitchell suggests in his book, this kind of comparison, while productive in certain ways, is also reductionist and limiting, it ignores, as he discusses, “other forms of relationship, eliminating the possibility of metonymic juxtapositions, of incommensurability, and of unmediated or non-negotiable forms of alterity” (87). Even examining the current games, a comparison based on the same artistic standards obviously is going to work out the detriment of games, which rely on entirely different mechanics in order to engender art. However, while that kind of comparison isn’t going to be very fruitful for an examination of games, examinations based on the other values that Mitchell mentions could be very interesting.

A juxtaposition of a video game with a different form of artistic representation, might however, call into question the ways in which the two mediums present different ways of interacting with image, even with text. Without the video game comparison however, elements of interest might be concealed, even ignored. Comparing the mediums calls into question not only what medium can do, but what it can’t do and what functions it is limited by...but interestingly enough, it also provides the opportunity to see the ways in which it is capable of qualities that haven’t been fully explored yet, thereby expanding both mediums and there ways of representation. Film culture has changed the way in which books work in significant ways, offering new viewpoints and new ideas, and those who first notice through the placing of one beside the other become innovators.

However, even beyond that, the different kinds of relationship that can be made between different mediums can provide interesting new ways to use them in cohesion; they can possibly make the new simply by working together, or in counterpoint...or in ways that people haven’t even conceived of yet.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Virtual Reflection of Protest...

Recently I was reading this mashable article discussing the way in which Second Life has become an arena for Islamic communities to display their identities, and interact with other communities from around the world, both Islamic and not. What really interested me though, from the visual standpoint, was the discussion of the protest that occurred on Second Life. In this virtual world, reality was being displayed as a virtual protest was made of the violence happening on the Gaza Strip. The protesters used the virtual world to display images of a reality happening (I highly recommend, if you are interested in the political discussion, that you go beyond the fold on this link and read the comments below). The virtual reality, in the moment of protest, becomes surprisingly real. It does more than reflect a reality, it makes commentary on it with images of violence, destruction, and death. This is then catalogued in news sources like protests taking place on the actual streets of cities (though usually on a smaller scale).

So what do we do with this? I think there is an idea of the novelty of this inflating its current importance...but really, I think what is more interesting is the way this points to a path to a virtual exploration of complicated and troubling issues, as well as a way to bring people from widely differing backgrounds together to discuss the issues in a way that is not only peaceful, but could possibly becomes very effective. Imagine the virtual worlds with millions of players world wide demonstrating these values...what's more, imagine the very walls being made up of images of protest. The effectiveness of the medium then becomes reflective largely of the popularity of the medium.

There is something different about the interactive, and virtual nature of created worlds though that seprates it even from social programs like facebook and twitter...something that isn't being used to its full effectiveness yet but could definately become an interesting realm where the visual encompasses everything...and where the words become secondary to the experience of that visual. When a person surroundings are not so much reality, but a visual rendering of does that situate the individual and how they react to the world. And how do protests made on virtual mediums affect the world at large?

What do we say about the idea that the protest images are a visual rendering in a visual world...a world that is being used not only to create social interactions between people, but to create an alternate reality for people? When do we stop considering virtual worlds entertainment and start considering them a part of the fabric of our realities, and has this already happened? I don't know the answers to most of these questions, but I do know the visual interactive medium is starting to change the way we think about real world events. It is already demonstrating itself as our phones define the way we interact with the world...defining us through twitter and facebook posts...even if we aren't the ones posting. These are already being taken seriously by major companies, and as these ideas become more and more prevalent we are going to find the mediums through which we socially interact become more technological, and more definingly virtual.