What is hybridity?
A hybrid at its simplest is a mixed thing made up of the sum total of its predecessors. Hybrid media practices bring together different media to create work that is both familiar and strange. How can new media artists push the limits of their practice by engaging with hybrid forms? How can the strange give birth to the unexpected? How can the unexpected give rise to new forms? In cultural studies hybridity is a contested term and as such highlights not only its own inherent problems but the problems inherent in the arguments that oppose it. How might new media theorists extrapolate from cultural theorists to expand upon this malleable, yet contested term?
What is an immersive environment?
Leonardo Online is a critical resource for new media studies. This week we will consider our question of the week based on a call for papers dealing with “data visualization as an immersive experience” from Leonardo Online. They write: “Consider a simple analogy; to swim in a pool is to understand three dimensionality, interaction, spatial relationships and a macro-micro view, as well as contextual and embodied interaction. Can we swim with data? How do we build, debate and discuss the future and shape of immersivity in its relation to data? Can the representation of data as an immersive environment be considered a creative accomplishment or support creativity in action or as spectacle? How does this change the way we collect and archive information? How does it relate to our ways of interacting with information in study and analysis? How can this enhance or fuse key aspects of image projection, virtual reality, augmented reality, new media and even locative media?”
Describe the different levels of interactivity.
Interactivity is long recognized as a key characteristic of new media. But what does this mean and why is it interesting? Generally, programmers and designers of digital experiences describe interactivity in levels — low, medium and high. Low-level interactivity gives the user the ability to navigate through static, linear material at her or his own pace. Medium-level interactivity gives the user the ability to choose between multiple predetermined outcomes. High-level interactivity offers meaningful interaction between originator and participant, as well as among participants. As a result of high-level interactivity audiences become authors. My ‘own’ art locates itself here, where as Eduardo Kac puts it in Telepresence and Bio Art, “interactivity destroys the contemplative notion of beholder or connoisseur to replace it with the experiential notion of user or participant.” (Kac 2005, p. 5) Art in this context moves away from representation towards communication. This naturally problematizes the very notion of art as the artist loses his or her privileged position in the “dissolution of the artist in the user and vice-versa.” ((Kac 2005, p. 7) By sharing authorship the artist surrenders authority, giving up a piece of the present for the whole of the future. The digital aesthetic, in this context, becomes an active dialogical one involving questions of ethics because if the artist is to share responsibility with the public, then the public must interact responsibly to complete the making of the art. This dialogical aesthetic, an aesthetic of ethics, gives way to a generative one in which artists and participants are willing to risk not knowing the future so as to make it possible.
What does it mean to become ‘electrate’?
Just as last week was playful, this week is challenging. Electracy, a word invented by the self-proclaimed ‘neopest’, is to digital technology what literacy is to print. ‘Neopest’, another word invented by Ulmer, refers to a person who invents words needlessly. He is only half serious because the subtext, or perhaps in his case, overtext, of his writing is that we do indeed need a new vocabulary to express an emerging rhetorical genre. He believes that the invention of the internet gave birth to a new culture, distinct from oral and literate cultures. I conducted an interview with Ulmer in 2004 for a piece called The Higher Men. Here is a relevant excerpt from that interview:
“The kind of individual selfhood that literate people are so concerned in preserving is not absolute. It is relative to the apparatus of literacy. Oral peoples are not organized in terms of selves – critical thinkers who web a kind of nation state. They have a completely different order of being. Similarly, for ‘electrate’ people, ‘electrate’ people are no longer experiencing themselves exclusively as selves. The nation state as a political order is beginning to dissipate to some extent, and new orders of both collective and individual identity are coming into formation. In order for the individual person, as well as the public group, to work effectively in the process of inventing these changes because this is a key thing to think about – these changes have no inevitable destiny. There is no absolute determinism as to what these processes are going to be. Certain forces are certainly coming to bear on them, commercial forces for example or perhaps fascist forces, or whatever, are coming to bear on trying to control these processes. It’s crucial that citizens in general learn to be ‘electrate’ so that they can participate in the invention process of these identity behaviors in a way that is conducted in their own best interest. Otherwise, of course, we might end up in something like the Matrix. Now this is why I insist on abandoning the whole approach to ‘electracy’ in terms of literacy—simply stop worrying about the literate form and instead make the transition bootstrap into ‘electracy’ and become native practitioners of the new apparatus.”
In other words what it means to become ‘electrate’ is up to us or more to the point, it is up to you. What is this new culture called electracy? What does it mean to be digitally ‘literate’? Building on the the three previous questions and moving towards your utopia assignment what does it mean to become electrate? Or what could it mean? What do you want it to mean? How can you put a technology that was originally designed to serve the military complex to the service of changing the world in a good way? Audre Lourde tells us that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Buffy Sainte Marie tries to do just that. What do you think?
What is play?
This week it is time to have fun. Calling on the experts is easy because everyone is an expert on play. We all played as children and most of us still do. So, what is it and why is it important for new media students to understand its function? What does it have to do with experience design? A good source to begin thinking about play is Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. In the context of games they look at the play of experience, of meaning, of pleasure, play as narrative, as social and even as sites of cultural resistance.
But first I would like you to call on yourselves and each other. What is play to you? Is it important to you?
Karl Marx envisioned a world in which there would be no difference between work and play. In that sense play would be something that is enjoyable, something that occupies ones thoughts and dreams. Play might even be a little bit addictive or obsession forming.
I know I am playing when I become completely immersed. I know a child is playing when he or she squeals with delight. What is the difference?
What is ecological thinking?
A key component to any good design, including experience design, is ecological thinking. To think ecologically means to think holistically, to understand the connectedness of things, to think responsibly. Ecological thinking takes its cue from the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee which urges the present generation to live sustainably for the benefit of the next seven generations.
In the 2003 edition of the International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, Mitchel Resnick tells us that to think ecologically is to think like a tree, specifically the walking tree. He tells us the walking tree follows a “tree strategy:
• Test Randomly (send out roots in all directions)
• Evaluate (determine which roots find the best soil)
• Elect (choose which direction to move, based on the information from the roots)”
In other words ecologically thinking is both responsive to local conditions and adaptive to changing ones.
Designing ecologically means, as William McDonough & Michael Braungart write in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things , responsible sustainable design. Their book is a a manifesto calling for ecologically intelligent design. Most of the products we see around us, including the computer you are using to participate in this blog are designed with a cradle to grave paradigm — planned obsolescence is still part and parcel of industrial design. McDonough and Braungart tell us it does not have to be this way. We could turn it around and design everything with a cradle to cradle paradigm. In other words instead of a system that “takes, makes and wastes” why not a system that generates ecological, social and economic value? Their book is a good example of ecologically thinking as it is a “treeless” book designed to be recycled and reused in a cradle to cradle cycle.Taking their cue from biodiversity they argue for cultural diversity. They write: “Against this tide of sameness we advance the principle respect diversity. By this we mean to include not only biodiversity but also diversity of place and of culture, of desire and need, the uniquely human element.”
To think ecologically is to respect diversity.
In class we developed a chart that posits ecological thinking as a synthesis of Robert Harris’s critical and creative thinking comparative. Here is a synthesis of what we came up with collectively:
|Critical Thinking||Creative Thinking||Ecological Thinking|
|answer||an answer||a hypothesis|
|left brain||right brain||heart|
|yes but||yes and||yes and no|
You will keep coming back to this question over the next four years and beyond. Some theorists begin the conversation with Lev Manovich, as he was one of the first to offer a definition. In many ways we have grown past his definition but the categories are still useful as they point to the possibilities inherent in new media. In The Language of New Media (2001), Manovich posits five principles:
- Numerical representation: objects are data subject to algorithmic manipulation
- Modularity: objects exist independently
- Automation: objects can be created and modified automatically
- Variability: liquid objects exist in multiple versions
- Transcoding: objects can be converted into different formats — implicit in this principle is the cultural transcoding that takes place when computer and media intersect or clash.
Here is a link to Lev Manovich’s blog http://databeautiful.net/
Recently, I was asked by the University administration to suggest terms of reference for new media. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:
The term New Media when used as a singular noun, refers to a broad range of media processes, practices and theories. New Media differs from ‘old media’ in acquisition, distribution and control over the means of production and communication. For a modernist the word ‘new’ implies cutting edge, better. For a post-modernist the term implies a break with history – a culture that is ever changing. In the past post-modern, post-information age new media refers to a cultural shift. In Internet Invention, Greg Ulmer refers to this shift as ‘electracy’, which is to digital media what literacy is to print. Ulmer talks about three distinct cultures – oral, literate and electrate. Oral people, he writes, experience thought as spirit and so organize themselves collectively in tribes, literate people experience thought in the mind and so organize themselves as individuals in nation states, electrate people experience thought as image and so organize themselves in some yet to be determined way. While, there is hope in the as yet unknown characteristics of electracy, Ulmer’s attempt to break out of a ‘Western’ framework from the inside backfires because he gets caught up in its linear misunderstanding of time. Implicit in his argument is that there is a progressive evolution from oral (read primitive) to literate (read educated) to electrate (read progressive) cultures. I agree with Ulmer that orality, literacy and electracy do influence thought systems and therefore identity formations in their own distinct ways. However, rather than entrench notions of discrete cultures, I propose a synthesis grounded in mutual respect. New Media in this context is a field of study addressing knowledge creation in an electrate world.
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