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Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Post-Symbolic Stroll

This YouTube video reminds me both of David Blair's Wax: or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees and Chris Marker's San Soleil as well as Jaron Lanier's musings regarding post-symbolic communication.1 It's a powerful video with two parts, both of which aim to educate normal people about the language used by autistics.

In My Language (via)

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Baggs's computer-generated speech makes the point that normal persons would be skeptical that an autistic could produce such analysis in "our language." end of article

1 I don’t think Lanier was thinking about direct interaction with the physical world as depicted in Baggs's video. As a side note, I am also reminded of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's discussion of Judge Schreber and the schizo’s stroll (description of a passsage Georg Büchner’s Lenz) Anti-Oedipus (1-2, 4-5).
Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.

In My Language. Dir Amanda Baggs. 2007.
Sans Soleil. Dir Chris Marker. 1983.
Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees. Dir David Blair. 1991.

Monday, 25 February 2008


Microfilm was a terrible technology from the word “go.” Today, it's become just a little bit worse. end of article

Sunday, 24 February 2008


Almost everyone has experienced a sense of increased power after acquiring a piece of new technology or learning a new skill. The acquisition of new capabilities through learning or artifacts are ways in which people (organisms) may extend the ranges of their influence, the extents of their bodily power. An individual's effectiveness can be multiplied by equipping that individual with postcongenital instruments.

The perception of such augmentation often manifests as excitement, joy, curiosity, and self-confidence. They are the feelings which people experience when learning how to knit, understanding a new language, or acquiring a new tool. For example, when I was a child, I remember how excited I was when I got my first ten-speed bicycle. Ten-speed bicycles were several degrees of complexity over a single-gear coaster brake bicycle. They enabled cyclists (cyborgs) to change the ratio between torque and power as occasion demanded. The decoupling of acceleration and deceleration in the form of handbrakes allowed for greater control over balance while turning etc. and so on.

The giddiness I experienced when I got my first ten-speed bicycle was about being able to move my corporeal self in ways that were more efficient than was possible with a single-gear bicycle. The technology was fundamentally about moving my body, about moving meat and bone, flesh and sinew.

Miguel DeLanda considers the augmentation of individual capability when he writes

New skills, in short, increase one's capacities to affect and be affected, or to put it differently, increase one's capacities to enter into novel assemblages, the assemblage that the human body forms with a bicycle, a piece of solid ground and a gravitational field, for example. (50)

It isn't too difficult to see how moving one's body, one's flesh and bone, from one location to another enables one to enter new assemblages, whether going to party on the other side of town, riding from one's house in the suburbs to the tidepool down the coast, etc. What is less obvious is how the acquisition of new skills provides access to assemblages whose materiality is less visible to the eye. For example, deploying a content management system to automate the generation of article summaries, summaries monitored by various pieces of software whose output is consulted by, say, a group of students.

Some people are (I am) drawn to tools and information that provide access to new assemblages, to novel informatic and corporeal strata. This kind of activity—the acquisition and development of material which increase the range of one's influence—is distinct from the acquisition and arrangment of data available in strata already familar. end of article

Works Cited

DeLanda, Manuel. A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. London: Continuum, 2006.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Relatively Unknown Statistics

After surviving my brother's suicide in 1995, I became painfully aware just how prevalent suicide is. Years ago I encountered a WHO statistic that the suicide rate outstrips the homicide rate by nearly three times.

A recent NYTimes article notes a nearly twenty percent increase (20%) in United States suicide rates among people in midlife (45-54) between 1999 and 2004. 1 Also according to the article, more than 32,000 people committed suicide in 2004.

On the other hand, the FBI reports that in 2004 16,137 people died of homicide, just more than half the number of those who died by their own hands.2

The nearly two-to-one prevelance of suicide over homicide is not something to dwell on, but whenever I’m reminded of this fact I nod in sober acknowledgement of just how painful living can sometimes be. end of article

1 With a thirty-one percent (31%) increase in women aged 45-54.
2 Homicide defined as " as the willful (nonnegligent) killing of one human being by another”.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Robot Vernacular


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I'm interested in the kinaesthetics of such dances, the way in which mechanism and organism are both signified, each blending into the other.

For example, the initial jerking movements whose range of motion are severely limited signify “robot” and highlight the performer‘s skill precisely because they are modifications of his normal movement as a living organism. When his movements become more fluid (in way characteristic of 1980s popping) they take as their point of contrast not his everyday motor behavior, but his stylized “robot” movements.

The performance draws not only upon the vocabulary of robot kinaesthetics but also on a stylized version of organism kinaesthetics and the two rhetorics are made to play against each other. The performance in this sense can be said to be polyphonic.

There is also a layer of racial complexity in that “The Robot” was pioneered by black Americans in the 1970s. Performances such as the one depicted in the video clip above have roots going back to African-American street vernacular and insofar as they communicate to new generations of dancers and audiences, they branch and grow into something else.1

UPDATE:I have an entry that considers a commercial wherein the dancer in the video above, David Bernal, performs. In post-production, Gene Kelly’s face is digitally imposed over Bernal’s (as well as over the faces of two other dancers dressed up as Kelly).

Thanks to M. for alerting me to Bernal’s presence in both videos and for pointing me to an interview Bernal gave on kotte.org.

Kottke posted Bernal’s interview two years ago to the day, and I would not have learned of it except for two people connecting to me and providing me information.

end of article
1 With thanks to K. for the del.icio.us link.

Wednesday, 06 February 2008

Algorithm for (a) Digital Generation

Preliminary: I have almost zero understanding of current scientific models of human cognition.

Tasks which require extended periods of attention have become increasingly difficult for me in the last ten years. I don't think the causes of my difficulties, however, are only about lack. I believe this increasing difficulty is the result of almost a decade of reinforcement which begins with my work in a digital media processing and production shop. What was a benefit in that work context is in some ways an enemy of the modes of thought required of literary and cultural analysis. Even stated this way, the magnitude and depth of the problem are vastly understated. It's one thing to say “literary analysis and creative writing require long spans of attention” and quite another to say “digital media creation, processing, and interpretation reward the ability to context switch.” The logical extension of this is that environments which cultivate the ability to context switch are those which also foster the creation, processing, and interpretation of digital content.

Fast forward.

The mechanisms which can cultivate attention switching (which itself can be broken into parts: awareness of peripheral stimuli; evaluation of stimulus; identification of candidate requiring attention switch; promotion of candidate; deprioritization of current task; storing pertinent information regarding current task; processing stimuli emanating from promoted candidate; executing task required of new context) are undoubtedly infinite, but in an academic environment where pure research is encouraged (if not rewarded) as a good in and of itself, people who are able to rapidly shift attention to new tasks and resume previous tasks are at some advantage.

Due to congenital accident and historical contingency, my own nervous system is good at context switching. Extremely good. My suspicion is that the pleasure centers of my brain are intensely stimulated when the neurological and perceptual mechanisms required to attention switch are activated. I get off when I switch attention.

I am not saying I have digitally-induced ADD. Rather, I’m saying that my involvement with the processes of computation and digital media creation have adapted my brain to absorb information from many sources and that this adaptation tends to produce material that looks quite different from the analyses characteristic of physical print. It’s a feature, not a bug.

However, this ability becomes a problem when the rewards of attention switching are so powerful that they indiscriminately reinforce attention switching for its own sake. Perhaps a more flexible model would be something like

  • awareness of peripheral stimuli
  • evaluation of stimulus
  • rejection/identification of candidate requiring attention switch
  • continuance/deprioritization of current task
  • etc.

Of course, this model doesn't account for the possibility that some of these threads may run simultaneously. Even so, my main point stands, which is that the indiscriminate reinforcement of attention switching can effectively remove one’s ability to maintain the priority of a current task.

Many people experienced with working in a digital environment are choosing tools that artificially limit distraction. For example, wrting programs which obscure other programs (including the local filing system!) have been gaining adherents and proselytizers. Such tools certainly have their advantages. But tools that eliminate stimuli by hogging screen real estate may reduce the value of digital media workflows which can reveal/disclose related information that will enhance the quality of produced content. Such tools inhibit productive as well as deleterious instances of attention switching. This is the problem of all or none.

My hope is that the value of rapid attention switching can be increased by developing the ability to reject candidates as ones that do not require an attention switch. Eliminating peripheral stimuli altogether may be the only way some of us can maintain the priority of an important task, but I think there is a better way, one that increases the value of attention switching by limiting the frequency with which it occurs. end of article

Monday, 04 February 2008


Beautiful. (source)

end of article

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