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Category: media

Her Explicit Intention Was a Signal Of Something Else Entirely…

Listening to John Cage talk about music, sound and silence causes me to think about data. We talk about data in similar terms, we think of it as structured, semi-structured and unstructured.

I don’t need sound to talk to me…
– John Cage

We often talk of trying to capture the intention of a person’s activity on the Network. Google has done this through providing the mechanism through which a question about the location of something is asked. In our age of quantification, it seems rational to dedicate our efforts to locate the consumer’s stated intention to buy. The rational engages the rational in a structured transaction where the best feature/function/price ratio is determined by auction in real time. This is a vision of humanity as a population of buying machines.

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There’s a magic trick that’s often used to sell the non-verbal within the corporate environment. A series of visual illusions are displayed to prove the point that each person brings something of themselves to every situation. Usuallly a test is then given— and a  person’s set of answers are then mapped to a psychological profile. Colors or archetypes predict what each person might bring to the party. These maps are then provided to make visible the invisible threads running through our everyday interaction. Magic, of course, is entirely rational. Diverting our attention between the Turn and the Prestige is its art.

Image advertising works at a lower level, it creates a personal connection to the economics of a person’s psychological ecosystem. The image asks for completion: I want to be that; I want that social status; I think that’s sexy; I think that’s funny; That thing is practical, like I am; I’m frightened, that thing looks safe. Is it really possible that advertising on the Network could be all ego and no id? Can brands survive as pure feature/function/price sets to be compared in a data matrix?

Crusades are being launched to structure and link all the data on the Network. The age of enlightenment strives toward its completion. And yet, I wonder, as I listen to John Cage talk about the sound of the traffic on 6th Avenue in New York City, how much of what goes on between people works at the level of the rational, unambiguous signal? How much more can we learn about what’s going on right now by listening to the sound of the traffic?

Take a moment, what is the sound of the traffic on the Network from your particular vantage point?

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Real-Time Writing: A Transvaluation of All Values

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Writing, when it is professional, is constructed like sculpture. Whereas speech, is the medium of real time. What writing is has been formed by the technical practices developed around typography and printing. The idea of real-time writing is a contradiction, it violates the standards of professional production. Professional writing must operate within the limitations of the medium of print.

Imagine a communications medium that could only be produced at best once a day, or once a week or a month. Or in many cases, only one time, ever. And once its product had been produced, the capacity to change it did not exist. The physical qualities of the medium of ink, type and paper dictate the professional qualities of the writing process. The alphabetic sequences to be published must be perfect, or as complete as humanly possible. Ink, painted on type, and pressed onto paper is a bell that can’t be unrung. A mistake is a stain on the permanent record.

From the perspective of the ink-stained wretch, faster news cycles mean a lowering of standards. There isn’t time enough to be professional. And the concept of real time is the equivalent of broadcasting false information. Real time is attacked as having no accountability, no standards, no credibility and no real value. The permanence with which ink is fixed to paper is a metaphor for the assurance with which the signifiers are bound to the signifieds.

The history of real-time writing is also connected to the technical limitations of particular communications media. The telegraph enabled a kind of real-time writing. Messages could be encoded and sent back and forth instantaneously across a wire. Because of its scarcity as a resource, it was rarely used as a medium for casual conversation. Although one can imagine the professional operators of the equipment occasionally sending personal messages to each other in real time. This medium, once it became technologically boring, evolved into instant messenger conversations across the Network.

To understand the epochal change writing is experiencing, one must look to the changes in the quality of the medium through which writing is transmitted. The professionals of the previous medium prefer to move the discussion toward standards and practices, as though hypertext and the Network were another kind of printing press. But this is just a red herring, an attempt to frame the challenges of new medium within the strictures of the old medium.

The moment that the time and cost of changing one letter in an alphabetic sequence to any other letter approached zero, the medium was fundamentally changed. Adding, modifying and deleting text are not only possible, they are fundamental to real-time writing. Hyperlinking and comments open up the space even more. And these changes extend not just to production methods, but to the culture, standards and practices of writing. It is a transvaluation of all values. And of course, the practitioners of the previous medium will claim it’s the absence of values, the abandonment of the commitment to truth.

Real-time writing has the quality of a transparent on-going investigation, new facts can, and do, change the story. It’s a time-bound performance, with a beginning, middle and end. A melody is laid down and explored through improvisations and variations on the theme. Print has no duration, time matters with hypertext on the Network. In the previous regime, information was excluded to meet the deadlines proscribed by the technical requirements of the print medium. If new information arrived after the deadline, that was just too bad. In real-time writing, that same process would be called suppression, and the new information would emerge through other dynamic publication endpoints. The capacity to incorporate new information, and to listen to comments for new perspectives, fundamentally changes what counts as professionalism. Cable television news networks, when they engage in on-going coverage of a live event,  operate within the value system of this new medium. Although, they can no longer restrict their inputs to a selection of their own correspondents and a few newswires.

Mastering the live mix (remix) of the real-time performance— of writing the new hyper-text, has many points in common with role of the MC in hip-hop music:

…Rapping, also referred to as MCing or emceeing, is a vocal style in which the performer speaks rhythmically and in rhyme, generally to a beat. Beats are traditionally generated from portions of other songs by a DJ, or sampled from portions of other songs by a producer, though synthesizers, drum machines, and live bands are also used, especially in newer music. Rappers may perform poetry which they have written ahead of time, or improvise rhymes on the spot with or without a beat. Though rap is usually an integral component of hip hop music, DJs sometimes perform and record alone, and many instrumental acts are also defined as hip hop.

As a story plays out across the Network, as new information is uncovered, the inputs are routed through the mixing board of the writer’s keyboard. A writer must now listen to how the whole jam is sounding— the writer is a player down in the groove with other players. As we learn to write through a real-time medium, we’ll need to look to the values, standards and practices of live performance. But these performances aren’t necessarily the traditional one-to-many events unfolding within a proscenium. We’ll need to dig into the performance theories of Richard Schechner and the Happenings of Allan Kaprow; revive the thoughts of Michael Kirby and The Art of Time, and the work of Fluxus. The journey from text on a page to hypertext on the Network is not a small adjustment to a business model; it’s a transvaluation of all values.

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A Radiant Node, A Cluster…

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Ezra Pound discussing the work of Wyndham Lewis: “The image is not an idea. It is a radiant node or cluster; it is what I can, and must perforce, call a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing.?

Imagining forms of static and dynamic representation, or perhaps a network whose nodes are vortices.

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The Numbing Violence of the Firehose of Messages

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Midway through a series of thoughts on gluttony, violence, numbness and the Network, I found myself leafing through Robert Pinsky’s verse translation of The Inferno of Dante:

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
in dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard—so tangled and rough

And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.
And yet, to treat the good I found there as well

I’ll tell what I saw, though how I came to enter
I cannot well say, being so full of sleep
Whatever moment it was I began to blunder

Off the true path…

The train of thought started with the asymmetric publish-subscribe social network model popularized by Twitter. In a symmetric model, there must be assent by both parties for a connection to be forged. In an asymmetric model, a person may follow an unbounded number of other people. Like a kid in a candy store, we greedily subscribe to this one and that. Oh, and the one over there looks very interesting. Our virtual stomachs and appetites have an unlimited capacity.

As we sit back to digest the stream of messages, we find ourselves looking into the business end of a firehose. Each person we subscribe to may produce a manageable flow, but if we aggregate all these messages and make them march single file through a small opening the velocity becomes violent. The senses are pummeled with a raging torrent of voices from all quarters of the globe.

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The response to a violent overstimulation of the senses is numbness and withdrawal. It started out so innocently, a few friends gather round a bar and swapped one liners. Every joke was heard, and each built on and referred to the previous one. Now the messages move by so quickly we can barely grasp the words they contain. We grow numb, distant, we hold the stream at arms length, our emotions disengage.

What does the defender against this battering look like? Is he the one who decries this new-fangled firehose of messages? Dismisses it as unneeded, as superfluous? The one who lovingly points to the old ways and speaks eloquently of their sufficiency?

Or perhaps it is the one who points the way, showing us evidence of a path that seems to lead over the horizon. Telling of us of a wondrous time and place where the new technology is perfectly integrated—all friction resolved. The one who expectantly points to what is absent and asks us for our present for the sake of the future.

If media is an extension of our central nervous systems; if these subscriptions are extensions of our eyes and ears, our sense of touch— then each of these sensors serve to collect impressions, translate them into words, images and sounds and relay them back to us.

But when we first come upon them we don’t recognize them as parts of ourselves. Perhaps we see them as just another commodity in the corporate marketplace of entertainments—an amusement to occupy our time. Sense organs detached, packaged, and sold back to us on a subscription model.

At this present moment, we walk like a drunkard, numb to the world around us, filled to the gills with firewater and lurching to and fro. We promise we’ll only dip in from time to time. But we find ourselves, eyes glazed, mouth open, staring at the flow racing through the glowing rectangle. Unable to comprehend, unable to pull ourselves away. Comfortably numb.

What would it look like if we used those subscriptions as purposeful extensions of our senses? Our senses serve us as we navigate and discover the spaces of the Network. We share, create and connect. We might extend our senses through subscriptions to those with whom we share an affinity. The shape and value of the social graph would be measured not by its sheer size, but rather by its sensitivity to our circle of concerns. Is there a road we can travel to reconnect to our own sensibilities?

…This hollow where we stand. There is below
As far from Beelzebub as one can be

Within his tomb, a place one cannot know
By sight, but by the sound a little runnel
Makes as it wends the hollow rock its flow

Has worn, descending through its winding channel:
To get back up to the shining world from there
My guide and I went into that hidden tunnel;

And following its path, we took no care
To rest, but climbed: he first, then I—so far,
Through a round aperture I saw appear

Some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears,
Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.

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