I wanted to bring this up in class yesterday, but I’ll leave it here and maybe we could look at it next week.
Reading through Chapter 6: Narrative & Database of How We Think, it occurred to me that the difficulty of mapping a temporal dimension, especially one that is variable and emergent, may partially be due to the medium in addition to the limitations of relational databases. Mapping four or more dimensions onto a 2D plane (like a piece of paper or even a computer screen) is difficult. Of course, interactivity enables the data visualization designer to provide more options for navigating/revealing a database’s contents, but we’re always limited by the two dimensions that we have immediate access to.
It’s too bad that Hayles didn’t include an image of Minard’s 1869 map of Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812. It’s truly a remarkable example of map design. Edward Tufte has called it “probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn.” I’ve added it here for reference.
Minard, Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812, 1869
Also, I wanted to bring attention to the work of data visualization designer Nicolas Felton. He has been creating “annual reports” based on data he has collected about his own life. A great example of personal, spatial mapping can be found here:
Nicolas Felton, 2011 Annual Report, 2011
See you next week!
Thu, October 20 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Dave
I am desperately sorry, but my mother’s funeral was yesterday and I am still out of town – I thought I’d be able to fly in to Toronto today to teach this week, but overestimated my capacity to return to class, so I am cancelling my classes for this week.
Next week our class will catch up – likely by doing two presentations. We will also discuss the make-up date for the class you are missing… or can agree to add time to existing classes… whatever works best for us, collectively. Thanks so much for your understanding.
Tue, October 18 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Caitlin
With a gap growing between digital scholarship and its print-based counterpart, Hayles argues for contemporary technogenesis (the idea that humans are defined by their co-evolution with technology) and argues for what she calls comparative media studies, a new approach to identify digital work within print traditions and vice versa.
Hayles explores the technogenesis twist and the challenges it brings. She considers the effects of early databases such as telegraph code books and confronts the changing perceptions of time and space in the digital age. She ventures to demonstrate the ways in which media have historically impacted consciousness through a case study of the telegraph, which in its use of code, she claims, established a new relationship between “machinic” and “human” languages. She also explores how the database offers an alternative to narrative as a structure for arranging knowledge. She is illustrating this through three innovative digital works:
Steve Tomasula’s electronic novel, TOC; Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts; and Mark Z.
Danielewski’s Only Revolutions.
Expanding our understanding of the massive transformative powers digital technologies have placed in the hands of humanists, the book presents a detailed rationale for tackling the challenges facing the humanities today.
The coevolution of human and technical begins often as “the effect of reengineering environments so as to favour further changes” (p. 123).
One such example is the telegraph codebook, a device that was particularly useful because, decades after the peak of its use, started in the 19th century ,we can retrospectively view and appreciate the changes the invention initiated. The telegraph required human operators who were physiologically disciplined to correctly hear and reproduce telegraph beep tones within very short intervals. But since telegraph communication was public, code books were needed to keep confidential messages short and private. Hayles traces the transformation of these code books from relatively simple collections of customary phrases to dynamic coding algorithms which helped to transform any natural language expression into invisible combinations of letters. Code books standardized communication by introducing an encoding/decoding algorithm into the transmission of natural language expressions. This suggests the emergence of binary code:
“The progression from natural language to artificial code groups … traces a path in which code that draws directly on the lifeworld of ordinary experience gives way to code calculated procedurally” (p. 142). Digital code became a universal language of global communication—and it was written in English. While discussing the practices, economics, politics, technology constraints and capabilities of telegraphy, we learn about the value of digital coding theory, the evolution of codes from letters to numbers, and businesses driven to using cryptography from the increased cost of sending codes.The author also explores technical issues of software project development, designing and coding software databases, and the SQL language (Structured Query Language, is a special-purpose programming language designed for managing data in relational database management systems.)
Humans developed the telegraph, but in order to use it effectively, humans also had to adapt to the technology. Ultimately, Hayles affirmed, the telegraphs and code books are “ancestors“ to modern computer age:
“Following the transition from sound receiving to Teletyping, fewer sending and receiving skills were located in humans , and more were located in machines “(p. 146);
“Telegraph code books , in addition to offering secrecy (secretive communication system) also reflect a desire to create a mode of communication capable of moving with frictionless ease between cultures languages and time periods“ (p. 158).
Databases are changing the way humans approach research practices. These sources of
Information allow researchers to investigate new possibilities in the crossover between database and narrative. Hayles introduced the term “spatial history” and “narrative” history (Spatial has to do with distance between things and describes how objects fit together in space).
According to Hayles, narrative is naturally chronological while database is inherently spatial; However, these structures have a synergetic relationship.
Spatial history exemplifies this overlap, making maps represent meaning and movement rather than only location. These combinations allow for representations of more complex information; narratives and databases exemplify a tension between standardization and story which becomes complicated with the fact that “ never before in the history of human species has so much information been so easily available to so many.” (p.182)
The author is highlighting two experimental novels for further analysis: Steven Hall’s (2007) The Raw Shark Texts: and Mark Z. Danielewski’s (2006) Only Revolutions: Each of these texts bridges the gap between narrative and database. In addition, Only Revolutions offers itself to a machine reading.
Hayles uses Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts as an example of synthesis of narrative and database . Through (de)contextualization of data , flexibility of format and presence or absence of a speaker, (p. 202).
The Raw Shark Texts magnified and interrogated these binaries through concrete villains in the narrative. For example Mycroft Ward “represents the complete separation of form and content” whereas the Ludovician shark “embodies the complete fusion of form and content” (p. 205).
These villains propelled the reader into an immersive fiction that can be viewed as both positive (the goal of narrative) and negative (dangerous to the reader). Finally, The Raw Shark Texts included reverses, which also forced the reader to choose between parallel endings.
The Raw Shark Texts refereed between narrative and database, hinting at the potential “for a future in which humans, as ancient as their biology and as contemporary as their technology, can find a home” (p. 219).
Another work the author uses is Mark Z. Danielewski’s (2006) Only Revolutions which explored a transformational: “shift from narrative as a temporal trajectory to a topographic plane upon which a wide variety of interactions and permutations are staged” (p. 221)
For example: Only Revolutions can be read in “octets” (referring to units of eight as mentioned in p. 224), by rotating the book every eight pages in order to read text that is initially upside down, or
“Chronological lists of entries,” which is one of four different kinds of data arrangements relevant to the book where each “terms throughout the text, and specific word and line counts” (pp. 224-226).
The additional thread of historical events that runs along the center of each page also complicates the narrative and lends itself to data analysis as it both forms and informs content.
These patterns “emerge from an ocean of data” and provoke active participation as the reader/user engages text and memory simultaneously (p. 230).
These limitations and structures ideally situate Only Revolutions for a machine reading which is the ultimate synthesis of print and digital. Hayles’s argument circled back to its beginning, a proposal that the humanities do not have to choose between hanging to print-based past or digitized present and future; she suggests to find a way to combine humanity and technology and develop a careful awareness to its complexities and dangers.
In her exploration of the mutually constitutive relation between human and technology, Hayles is addressing how we think in the broadest sense, and asks vital questions about how humans both transform and are transformed by the media we use.
Sun, October 16 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Amit
My understanding of N. Katherine Hayles’ How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis is an account of how humans have a long standing historical method with which we perceive and absorb information based on practices of reading and writing that activate the conscious mind; yet with the advent of digital media emerging to the forefront of public communications and advancements of knowledge, humans receive more information (and more quickly) through the processing of images and stimuli conducted through machines with both their conscious and unconscious mind. In Darwinian terms, humans process information much faster today than past predecessors (as recent as the 1960’s); adaptive responses to recent technological advancements have reshaped how humans analyze and also how they put information together to create narrative. In essence, Hayles offers big picture concepts of perception, consciousness and time, which require a fourth element, space, in order to co-exist as narrative operatives; these four combined help humans to not only construct, but also absorb modern day storytelling. The idea being that humans construct narrative today at a faster pace because their environment (and environment’s technological advancements) have forced them to adapt to the rapid fire execution of digital information being hurled their way every day. As a result, storytellers must now adjust the elemental components (in comparison to earlier time periods) in order to keep up with the current status of human processing.
How We Think
Hayles underlining academic interest is in humans and their evolution in co-existence with technology. This theme is especially accentuated in this book where Hayles argues that we currently find ourselves caught in the precarious gap between print culture era and digital culture era: “The Age of Print is passing and the assumptions, presuppositions, and practices associated with it now are becoming visible as media-specific practices rather than the largely invisible status quo (2). For this reason, the humanities are now in the process of acknowledging digital humanities as a sub-category and digital culture now affects the speed and consciousness to which humans absorb and process information. The last word in book’s title is in essence the fundamental underpinning of Hayle’s thesis; technogenesis is clinically defined as a process of “adaptation, the fit between organisms and their environments recognizing that both sides of the engagement (humans and technologies) are undergoing coordinated transformations” (p. 81). While a concept borrowed from the evolutionary sciences, at its core technogenesis describes how “epigenetic changes in human biology can be accelerated by changes in the environment that make them even more adaptive, which leads to further epigenetic changes” (10). In this case, “technology” is the substitute for “environment” and Hayles alludes to the complicated and porous interaction between humans and technology where they co-exist and most importantly evolve together thus fruitfully furthering a line of knowledge inquiry. Yet Hayles is also careful to clarify the hierarchical order between humans and machines: “People—not technologies in themselves—will decide through action and inaction whether an intervention such as this will be successful” (p. 18).
How We Read
With technological advancements affecting present-day human processes, Hayles offers three categories for with which we interpret data: close reading, hyper reading, and machine reading. Close reading is perhaps the most historically familiar and traditionally applied practice, particularly in humanity studies, and it is best described as “detailed and precise attention to rhetoric, style, language choice, and so forth through a word-by-word, analysis of a text’s linguistic techniques…” (58). Hyper reading is synonymous with visual information, social media and web content, which allows for accelerated access to information and includes “scanning (looking for a particular keyword, image, or other textual feature) and skimming (trying to get the gist quickly)” (61). It should be noted that this kind of reading doesn’t scrutinize its source material and tends to yield more general analysis over the specific analysis of close reading. And finally, machine reading outsources analysis to the technological apparatus that is able to quickly isolate and detect large-scale patterns that would go otherwise unnoticed through close or hyper modes of reading. Hayles predicts that though machine reading is now only in its infancy, it is the next logical step in the evolution of reading under the definition of technogenesis that asserts mutual reliance between humans and machines (71). Hayles dissuades the reader from preferential treatment of any given reading style and insists that it is the combination of these three practices that produces the narratives that our current era enjoys. Furthermore, Hayles reasserts that it is the human who is at the forefront of the human-technology equation and so it is the human who decides which particular style of reading best suits the given situation.
As a parallel to defining human evolution in relationship to machines, Hayles explores two concepts of time: time as based on multi-layered human experience and time that is measured (85-86). Hayles also introduces the limited capabilities of human consciousness revealing consciousness is only able to handle between forty-five to twelve bits per second in contrast to unconscious activity, including those of our senses, which processes at 11 million bits per second (95). The advancement of conscious and unconscious speeds were clear when Hayles’ colleague showed her students The Parallax View where students laughed through the film’s supposed subliminal image flashes unable to understand how such slowly timed flashes once “occur[ed] at the threshold of consciousness” (97). Hayles analyzes Steve Tomasula’s TOC: A New-Media Novel (2009) and ironically reveals that while humans create time by building devices to measure it, measuring devices create and affect humans through the regulation of time itself (115). Using TOC as the example, a number of storylines were woven together by a series of collaborators across different vantage points and different temporalities permitting technology and humans to coalesce in order to produce new combinations of time with story in relationship to spatiality and awareness.
Technogenesis speaks to a practice that is in the process of unfolding its true impact and potential. Hayles addresses an intricate series of processes that construct human narratives and interpretations and references these devices as a means of speaking to the future, the irony being that these predictions on perception, consciousness, temporality, and spatiality actually return to the discussions of our greatest and oldest philosophers.
Sun, October 16 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Anita
There will be Colloquium at the University of Toronto on Form, Function, Intent: Materiality and the Codification of Knowledge. One of their topics is Gaming forms and Interactive Fiction which is related to our class discussions these two weeks. They are calling for papers with abstract due on December 11, 2016. The Colloquium will be held on March 11, 2017. If you are interested, this is the link for further information; https://bhpccolloquium2017.wordpress.com/
Thu, October 13 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Erni
For those of you having difficulty getting their hands on the book for this week, “How We Think…” by Katherine Hayles, I found you can “rent” it online from Google Books for only $5.00. Here is the link: https://books.google.ca/books?id=hdHJMV3u09oC&dq=Hayles,+Katherine.+How+We+Think:+Digital+Media+and+Contemporary+Technogenesis+PDF
Wed, October 12 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Mark
In Jagoda’s first book, Network Aesthetics, he states that he “attempts to revise the common treatment of networks as control structures that originated in the computing and cybernetics research of the early Cold War” (7). Referencing the “network imaginary… [meaning] the complex of material infrastructures and metaphorical figures that inform our experience with and our thinking about the contemporary social world”, Jagoda “turns to narrative, visual, and procedural art forms that encourage an active, critical, and even transformative engagement with the network as the new dominant configuration and category of life” (3, 16). Specifically, Jagoda looks at four texts (two literary, two cinematic) and through a close reading of the networks presented in each, discusses the influences behind the origins, and how that influence can be “read” in terms of networking.
The Network Novel: Meaning & Mapping
Jagoda begins by looking into the literary network texts of DeLillo’s Underworld (1997) as well as Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (1999), and discusses what makes each a “network novel”, which by his own definition is “a late twentieth-century genre that reworks and intensifies the cultural concerns regarding a world interconnected by communication and transportation networks, and made unprecedentedly dependent upon an informational economy”, which he believes began in the 1990s during the rise of the Internet (44).
Despite both being pieces of science fiction, Jagoda chose to study these novels specifically because “[the] pieces are not predominantly speculative” (compared to works such as The Matrix), and demonstrate domestic interconnectivity through various processes of “mapping” (41, 44). Jacoba asserts that “[w]hile network visualizations offer a stable representation or a map of elements configured as nodes and links, the novel makes possible processes of mapping networks across space and time” (44). To provide an example of this, he writes about a baseball featured in Underworld, acquired by character Nick Shay. Partially due to the fact that the novel uses a non-linear timeline, the baseball in question has its own lineage, thus defying the conventions of space and time (similar to family heirlooms). As Jagoda points out, “For Nick, as for the reader, the significance of the ball derives from its historical linkages” (50). In and of itself, the baseball is meaningless. It is due to the ball’s mapping, Nick can derive meaning.
Network Cinema: The Butterfly Effect
The butterfly effect is a popular concept used to explain how small actions can have large consequences. It has been used in numerous mediums, such as the 2004 film of the same name, or the 2015 video game Until Dawn. Within network films, this effect is highly present, however Jagoba is specifically interested in its manifestation through technology.
The two works of cinema Jagoda is interested in are Syriana (2005) and HBO’s The Wire (2002-2006). The means of interconnectivity and network within cinema primarily deal with character relations to one another, within a specific space and time, which is then punctuated by cinematic language (cinematography, mise-en-scene, etc). In Syriana, audiences follow a CIA officer, an energy analyst, an attorney, and “a Pakistani immigrant worker”—though seemingly separate storylines—negotiating their respective ways through or with the oil industry (76). As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the actions of one character, though he may not know it, directly correlate to the (often negative) actions of another. Jagoda notes that this type of movement has been seen in films before, though believes Syriana has far more complexity than many of its counterparts due to the themes it addresses, and “through frequent camera movements, quickly paced dialogue, and rapid montage” (88).
Network cinema is far less interested in “epic battles” as Jagoda puts it, and far most interested in “perpetual violence”, which is derived though each character interacting with another (91). For example, Wasim Ahmed Khan (the Pakistani immigrant) discovers his “path to terrorism” through connectivity, “from unemployment to violent mistreatment by immigration officials to enrolment in an Islamic school to training for a role as a suicide bomber” (89). Network films are not the story of a protagonist on a journey to rescue the princess, but typically about an ensemble of protagonists (occasionally anti-heroes) with interlocking narratives through technology.
In a scene Jagoda focuses on, CIA officer Bob Barnes (George Clooney) attempts to warn Prince Nasir of his impending assassination by the CIA. The audience experiences multiple perspectives at once, as the film cuts to the CIA headquarters where a man counts down to the impending bomb that will kill both the Prince and Barnes, to a flashback of a moment in the past when the Prince and Barnes met in an elevator, to the Prince and Barnes together in the desert. The last words the Prince says is, “You’re the Canadian” to Barnes, remembering his previous fictional persona under the CIA. As Jagoda states, “[t]his scene could be read as a moment of reflective alliance, but it more properly conveys the profound dimness with which all global actors, regardless of their access to privileged political information, encounter the vast network of relations through which their lives unfold” (92).
Similar to Syriana, HBO’s The Wire uses an impoverished Baltimore as the setting in which “plotting is subordinated to the detailed mapping of Baltimore’s intersecting social worlds”, while “explor[ing] social networks by forging audiovisual and narrative links among a web of major and minor characters” (107). Like with Syriana, characters are connected through technology, though far more so than in the former example. In a particular scene during the Baltimore city election, three candidates debate on television, though the fictional audience is what is primarily shown to the real-world viewers. What is interesting is not the debate itself, but how characters react to it. Jagoda writes that “detectives in the homicide unit watch with distant interest, listening selectively for issues that pertain to their daily criminal investigations. The ex-con Dennis ‘Cutty’ Wise, in another vignette, notices the debate on his screen before immediately switching the channel to a football game… This human web is arguably one of the reasons that this series has been so often celebrated and debated by social scientists” (106-7). This combined connection and apathy is centred around the technology of networks, as well as the sociability of the networks themselves. As Jagoda accurately asserts, this is not Baltimore—it’s Baltimores (107).
Networks, be they literary or cinematic, help to illustrate the ways in which people relate to one another through the medium of technology, but must compounded with their social status and physical locations in order to be truly understood. Jagoda concludes similarly to how he began, writing, “The networked narrative forms that I have explored… mediate and compose the ordinary that sustains the network imaginary” (138).
Mon, October 10 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Callie
Digital media offers new forms of sensory and social habits. Games are a cultural form of digital media within a current network era offering worlds and microcosms of dynamic systems, allowing players to interact with them in new sensory and social ways. Jagoda takes a look at three different games; Introversion’s Uplink (2001), Jason Rohrer’s Between (2008) thatgamecompany’s Journey (2013) and his own augmented reality game The Project (2013) to examine the participatory and improvisational qualities of network aesthetics. Each of these games address interconnection of networks not as a novel feature but as an aesthetic form that can be represented and participated in through gameplay.
Uplink is a computer network simulation which puts the player in the position of a hacker. The game does not run on a network, but rather creates a diegetic world of hacking through audiovisual and interactive instruments. Visually, Uplink relies on a cartographical aesthetic to create an illusion of network. The two most important operations of Uplink are communication and control, which evidently serve as an allegorical aesthetic of networks. Jagoda emphasizes how society functions on the illusion of continuous control and instant communication through networks.
The next game, Rohrer’s Between is analyzed through Jagoda’s personal account of the gameplay. Between uses network aesthetics through an online game which reflects action and extimacy (the breakdown of intimacy) by linking the player with a secondary player. The game thinks through networks, not about them by complicating our control within networks. In the game, communication and connection is broken, the secondary player which the game is dependant on does not appear on screen. This a ludic aestheticizing of distance and the dependance on someone or something that is similar to the relationship we have with networks. In the same way that our reliance on networks gives us the illusion of being close and in control, there is a distant intimacy that occurs in the game. Between highlights experiences of dysfunction that are not often acknowledged but still remain a large part of network cultures.
Jagoda analyzes Journey through the accounts of experience shared on the online tumblr blog Journey Stories. Journey provides a unique co-op experience where players can voluntarily traverse through the environment of Journey with other players linked through online networks. The other players do not effect the gameplay but rather created an affective experience together. Through this co-operational function, Journey illustrates network aesthetics as an experience of intense affective sensations. While looking through the accounts written on Journey Stories, Jagoda notices the trend of stories regarding experiences rather than overt narrative stories. He attributes this to Journey’s lack of language which creates a greater emotional connection between players. This can be likened to modern ‘stranger sociability’ which is a symptom of networks. Journey aestheticizes this stranger sociability by allowing players to experience feelings of disconnectedness and intimacy with others through a network connection.
Lastly Jagoda discusses his work The Project which was an Alternate Reality game inviting players to engage with three conspiracy groups through social media, live performance, transmedia storytelling and more. ARGs explore qualities of connection through game form, utilizing game based interactions and collective interplay to access ordinary affects. He describes networks not merely as novel objects of study but constantly altering forms which unfold and initiate new ways creating experiences. Jagoda felt ARGs existed within networks but also mirrored them. There are five main elements of ARGs which The Project employs: 1. The flow of transmedia which employs the experience of moving among media and integrating multiple medias to create new relationships. 2. Integration of play with everyday life to blur the boundaries of ludic gameplay and real life, mirroring the sociotechnical conditions of the internet. 3. The production of an alternative reality which is situated in everyday life but creates a distinction from empirical reality. 4. A breakdown of distinctions between designers and players where games transform through a collaboration between designers and players. 5. The organization around collective gameplay in which realization and completion of games rely on the collective intelligence of both game makers and players. These elements are recognizable not only within ARGs like The Project, but exist as aestheticizations of the networks they inhabit and utilize.
Jagoda addresses the process, collaboration and failures of The Project in order to highlight the range of connections that ARGs generate and how they reflect networks. He describes his game as a constant process and not a static ludic experience. Players were invited not to fill a role as an actor with an established script and environment, but rather move in and out of different roles in response to particular events or puzzles. This leads to the next element of collaboration. Collaboration is a necessary aspect of ARGs and networks because of the ongoing reciprocation of information needed for both to function. If this does not continue than connectivity is broken and failure is imminent. But in games failure is central to game form because it is often considered a productive consequence and a learning tool. It is a stepping stone to eventual success. The Project experienced failures in a few ways, firstly with the refusal of public play and the lack of user interaction in online networks. Jagoda acknowledges these failures allowed the creators to rethink conceptually about networks, how they change and what sensations they grant us. The Project was not about representing a network necessarily but bringing a new one into existence in order to rethink the role of public life within the era of networks. Jagoda concludes by addressing the view we have of modern networks as being universal and necessary forms of connectivity that promise to explain everything and last forever. He emphasizes that although networks seem to be our everything we shouldn’t view networks as a simple object that connects us all. We should utilize networks themselves while we can to recontextualize the ethics of being and coming together in the network era.
Mon, October 10 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: AnnaMaria
Janet H Murray about Not a Film and Not an Empathy Machine
How necessary failures will help VR designers invent new storyforms
Sat, October 8 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Amit
In a couple of weeks, I will be heading to Cannes for the MIPCOM market. This conference is an international gathering of content producers, consumers, professional executives, academics and even movie stars. As part of my research for this year’s event, I came across this interesting article about the “Future of TV” and I thought of our class. Here’s a link to it: http://www.thewrap.com/why-the-future-of-tv-isnt-tv-guest-blog/
This year’s MIPCOM is focusing on digital production, dissemination and exhibition so I thought this article on television becoming an outdated medium was particularly poignant and worth sharing.
Tue, October 4 2016 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Mark