Tag Archives: Network Literacy

Empowerment (Dude or Man or Sister or)

From Mark Bernstein:

For export, Tinderbox pretty much expects users to have, or to pick up, the rudiments of HTML. This ought to be straightforward, but it hasn’t been. At this point, it seems to me, knowing the elements of HTML markup is simply part of what we expect every educated person to know. Everyone needs it, it only takes an afternoon to learn. The resistance has surprised me.

“simply part of what we expect every educated person to know”. How do I get students (and staff) to understand this? Not knowing even basic HTML, is like, is like, not knowing how to use a library. It isn’t that this skill is so essential to what you need to do everyday. It is that it so empowering when you know how, and do it.

Rhythm, Repetition

In linear media literal repetition is a vice. Alliteration, sometimes, is OK. Motifs, which is a fancy way of saying repeating something but a little differently, is also essential. But the same sentence in a novel (at least without quotation marks around it), the same shot or sequence in a film, a repeated sentence in an essay. No go. Bad form. Questionable. Linear media, even where it orbits with incessant moth like fascination around a recurring theme – in one work or across an oeuvre – celebrates variation.

This is one of the hardest things for people coming from linearland (it’s a state of mind silly) to get when you move into networked media forms and practices. For here repetition, to quote Mark Bernstein from many years ago, is not a vice. Why? The simplest explanation is to realise that if you don’t return to where you’ve already been, to then be able to make new and different choices (some of which may again return you here), you have no way of ever knowing that your choices matter. To the work, its shape, your experience of it, and that its shape and structure actually changes as a consequence of your decisions.

No return, no simple repetition, then it may as well as be a branching tree, and a branching tree is to poetic pattern as ice hockey is to ballet.

Mail Pilot Public Beta

Mail Pilot is something I backed on Kickstarter. There’s some iOS clients, and now a desktop client just gone public beta. They originally outlined a way to do email that Mailbox also uses. Mailbox I think stole an early march with their very slick iOS client, but I’ve been beta testing through 7 early versions and things are getting pretty good. Still beta, so yeah, crashes sometimes, but this is a great way to approach email and as far as I can tell the only client that has desktop and iOS.

I get it for free as a kickstarted funder, no idea what they funding model is for everybody else, but worth a look:

Mail Pilot, aka Mail Pilot (and I still don’t like the colour scheme) and the Public Preview

Documentary and Systems

Hot off the new documentary list.

Jeni Thornley on September 24 wrote:

“Sure the digital turn beckons in the era of the active co-creator-maker of the text, as Gaudenzi’s four interactive modes indicates, but a sentence like this seems quite a sweeping statement: “….to move documentary studies from its obsession with representation to a wider focus on documentary systems. From questions of what does documentary mean to questions of what does documentary do?” (Aston, Dovey & Gaudenzi 2013: 124)
I don’t think that documentary studies is ‘obsessed’ with representation; and also plenty of documentarists and scholars have investigated deeply ‘what documentary does’. I am thinking of Thomas Elsaesser’s application of being ‘stung into action’ by one’s own intense and empathic engagement and response to a film – in his terrific essay: ‘Subject positions, speaking positions: from Holocaust, Our Hitler, and Heimat, to Shoah and Schindler’s List’, in The Persistence of History, Routledge, 1996.”

Again I think Jeni’s picked a really important part of this essay. The shift from representation to ‘doing’ is picked up in lots of recent theoretical work, part of the stuff being critiqued via ‘new materialism’ and the ‘media archeology’ sort of stuff. This work argues that media (and we’ll stick doco studies in there for now) has been fascinated with representation, with what things mean, what people do with them, and what institutions do with or around them (the audiences, texts, institutions which defines media, communication and much cinema studies). The criticism of the recent work is that this research looks straight ‘past’ what the media is, to what we think it does in relation to whatever social system we want to investigate it through, but in that moment we don’t see or can’t see what the thing is in itself. I think Jeni’s point from Elsaesser is a good one, though still within the regime of ‘documentary doing’ that is representational or at least as a call outside of itself towards something else. (This could well be an elegant definition of documentary in relation to fiction.)

On the other hand I don’t think Aston and Gaudenzi quite get to where they could. Documentary systems is where the research needs to go. Partly to pick up and intersect with all the work being done in software studies, platform studies, new media and so on. I’m currently writing about how Korsakow, We Feel Fine, and Cowbird could all be thought of as documentaries, but as systems they are qualitatively different and this is a difference that makes a difference. (Bettina F. also used Cowbird as an example at Visible Evidence last year in Canberra.) The shift we are now defining is post digital to the extent that it is computational (procedural and processual) and networked. Yes it relies on the digital but the first wave digital was really only about access and ease. Just because I shot and edited digital I could still make the same sorts of things in much the same sorts of ways. But once we think of them as systems, then representation falls to some extent by the wayside, certainly to begin with because system dynamics (different systems produce different representational epistemes and experiences), and it is the relations afforded by the systems (between content and its parts, people, other systems, as well as procedural and computational processes) that matter.

Why don’t I think it quite gets there? Because the focus on what ‘documentary does’ risks becoming another way to representation, of what it means. Which is fine. But there is a lot to be learnt and understood by first thinking and answering what documentary systems there are, where system is closer to systems theory (let’s not forget Burnham’s system aesthetics either) and Actor Network Theory than socio-political conceptions of system. Different systems, different documentary possibilities, at all points/moments/facets of these systems.

It is All About Uncertainty

When working on the network and/or in interactive media you have one simple question. How do you want to respond or manage the experience of uncertainty. This uncertainty is any, or all of:

  • my relation to what I make
  • my relation to my audience
  • what I make’s relation to the audience
  • what I make’s relation to its parts
  • my audience’s relation to the parts of what I make
  • and whether my audience are users or an audience

All of these can be completely controlled, completely open, or (as is normally the case) somewhere in between. Control is the obverse to uncertainty. Do you have to insist that C follows B follows A, all the time? That what you make is fixed and can’t be touched/changed/altered? The audience is there to consume, not do? That the pieces of my work should stay still, just so? Our answers vary, but how these are answered largely defines the sort of interactive work you can and will make.

Affective Assemblages: Documentary Practice

My slides from the 2012 Visible Evidence conference held in Canberra in December. Arguing that network specific ‘aggregators’ such as Cowbird are documentaries, that such systems revolve around or respond to indeterminacy in particular ways and are therefore affective assemblages (affect engines) in the sense of affect provided by Deleuze in Cinema One.