Author Archive: willm2

INPUT: NOISE / OUTPUT: SOUND (M.A.L. sound collage) + project write-up

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 by willm2

INPUT: NOISE / OUTPUT: SOUND (M.A.L. sound collage): Final Project Write-up

 

Listen to the MP3 here: INPUT: NOISE / OUTPUT: SOUND (M.A.L. sound collage)

 

Inspiration:

 

Among the Dadaists, Futurists, and Surrealists we read in week 7, I was especially interested in Luigi Russolo and his letter which detailed his idea of a Futurist orchestra. His comments about the restrictive nature of contemporary (at his time) music, based on the Greek system of tetracords, was an interesting compliment to the works on discourse network we had read the week previous. By limiting all sound to the consonant intervals mathematically determined by Pythagoras, the Greeks “made impossible harmony they were unaware of.” (Russolo 5) I saw this as an illuminating analogy to the reality-system we view as absolute, but which in fact is merely a product of a certain way of knowing. Russolo’s desire to create noise machines based on the sounds of modernity (cars, industry, war) seemed to spring from a desire to cast off the restrictions of a false-absolute world-picture. Where I broke with Russolo was his technophilia. He wanted to replicate and amplify the sound of machinery because he thought it an appropriate soundtrack to the “increasing proliferation of machinery sharing in human labor” (Ibid 5); it’s clear from his letter that he whole-heartedly thought the mechanization of society was something desirable.

 

My simultaneous interest/criticism of Russolo’s noise-art project led me to the conception for my own project: a sound collage of the Media Archaeology Lab.

 

Concept:

 

My intent in creating a sound collage was two-fold: first, to show a different model of sound that could stand in contrast to the still present and still limiting array of ‘respectable’ sounds that structure today’s interchangeable mainstream pop music (most of which ironically sounds like the work of machines), and second, to critique Russolo by resisting the idealization of technological progress. In sum: noise can be beautiful, progress not so much. I wanted to reconceive the notion of archive (in the Foucauldian sense) to build on the latter idea. The Media Archaeology Lab is arranged in a way that sometimes suggests an improvement of technology over time. The line of portable computers, for example, begins with the oldest and ends with the newest. When arranged in this fashion, it is hard not to see a refinement of form and an improvement in components. While this improvement is not a complete fantasy (I really don’t want to carry around a 25 pound “portable” computer), it is reductive to view the devices by only these two variables. By scrambling the linear archive, we open up the possibility of new variables to discuss. A sound collage makes no explicit suggestions for other ways to arrange media; it does, however, show that technology can be set into different arrangements, some harmonious, others cacophonous.

 

The collage I did not want to make would have begun with the churning and groaning of primitive machinery and ended in the total silence of the Apple Store (sans customers). Instead of this narrative, I sought to represent one that was random, strange, circuitous, ruptured.

 

Process:

 

Creeping like a thief across the freshly waxed floors of the M.A.L. on a Thursday night in April, I laid my Macbook Pro alongside the Apple ][e, inserted the 5¼ floppy disk of bpNichol’s First Screening, flipped the power switch, and hit record. The program was GarageBand, bundleware with every MBP, the microphone was a silver circle on the computer’s side no bigger than a thumbtack. While I did not end up using First Screening in the sound collage, it became the first of around 55 devices/sounds I committed to the memory of my laptop. I tried to record the sounds that were most emblematic of each machine. The entry/eject sounds of computers that required boot-disks. The serene start-up tones of every Macintosh computer. The hideous whine of the NeXT Cube harddrive reading itself on start-up. I captured ambient sounds: background conversation, keyboards clicking, office chairs skirling over the tile floor. The only sounds which were expressly musical (except perhaps for the Mac start-up tones) were those of videogames for the Vectrex, the NES, and the Atari 2600. Asteroids on the 2600, I later discovered, was the first game to ever feature music. I also made noise: I vigorously shook an 8 inch FORTRAN disk (in effect, flopping it).

 

After I recorded at least one sound from nearly every computer/device in the lab, I set about organizing them by type. Not hardware or software type, but sound-type. Drawing inspiration from Russolo, who organized city sounds into six categories, I arranged the M.A.L. sounds as follows (those used in the collage are bolded):

 

Drone / whir / buzz

-Altair fan

-Apple Lisa fan

-NeXT Cube fan

-Intellivision Ice Magic

-IBM fan

-Xerox 6016 printer

 

Susurrus / warble

-FORTRAN disk flopping

-FORTRAN disk pulled in/out of sleeve

-Mouse scraping across table

-Office chair rolling

-Powerbook trackball

 

Percussive / plosive / thunk

-Nintendo load cartridge

-Atari load cartridge

-Intellivision load cartridge

-Altair switches being flipped

-Mac disk load/eject

-Apple ][e disk load/eject

-Apple III disk load/eject

-Commodore tape deck open/close

-Radioshack disk load/eject

-WP print sound

-Olympia typing

-NeXT mouse clicking

-Amiga mouse clicking

-Portable Mac open/close

-3×5 disks stacking

-3×5 disk datagate open/close

-Osbourne typing

-Apple III typing

 

Beep / screech / error

-Word Processor error

-Apple ][e error

-NeXt Cube hard-drive read

-Apple ][e start-up screech

-bpNichol

 

Chiptune

-Vectrex start up

-Vectrex Star Trek

-Vectrex Star Castle

-Vectrex Melody Maker

-Nintendo Track and Field

-Nintendo Zelda 2

-Atari 2600 Asteroids

 

Charm

Mac Centris startup tone

-iMac startup tone

-iBook clamshell startup tone

-Powerbook startup tone

-eBook startup tone

-iMac 3 startup tone

-iBook G4 startup tone

-Mac Classic 2 startup

 

After I had organized the sounds in this fashion, I came up with a general plan for how the collage would work. In order to present a non-linear (and non-corporatized) archive, I wanted to mix new/old, hardware/software, intentional/unintentional sound, error/proper functioning, and machine/human. I wanted the beginning and end of the collage to be similarly ambient, with the middle being a site of dissonance which would increase to the point of discomfort on the part of the viewer. The Drone, Susurrus, and Charm categories featured heavily in the beginning and end, and Percussion mainly occupied the middle. I kept the sounds of the beginning continuing through the middle dissonance, though at a reduced volume, then brought them back for the end. While I did clip and loop various sounds, as well as adjusting volume, I made absolutely no changes to the sounds themselves, happily ignoring the hundreds of ‘effects’ that come with GarageBand. Nor did I alter pitch in any way. Some odd effects happened unexpectedly of course. For instance, I did not expect the FORTRAN disk warble to have such a strong underlying bass-tone. I arranged the sounds in a kind of rhythmic order, sometimes layering two or three identical versions of the same sound in order to get more volume or to mask their beginning or end. The Altair fan and the Xerox 6016 printer sounds were layered three times each, while the eMac start-up tone was partially overlapped across 5 different tracks. I faded various sounds in/out accordingly to create smooth transformation of mood throughout the collage.

 

Reflection:

 

One aspect of the collage that caught me by surprise was how it took on the sounds of other machinery. In particular – and this may be a product of endless repetitive listening – the FORTRAN disk warble began to remind me of an oncoming train. In my demo of the project, another student (Sammy I believe) remarked that the cascade of Mac start-up tones at the end reminded her too of an approaching train. This is an apt metaphor for the sound collage. A train barrels into the station, at first its sound is distant and ambient, not entirely unpleasant. As it closes the distance, the sound of its machinery grows louder and louder until it becomes a din. Just as it becomes overwhelming, unbearable, it somehow returns again without ever having left, again distant and calm, and again growing louder.

 

Works Cited:

 

Russolo, Luigi, and Robert Filliou. The Art of Noise: (futurist manifesto, 1913). New York: Something Else Press, 1967. Ebook.

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Final project: Sound Collage of the Digital City

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 by willm2

Simply put: I’d like to do a work of media poetics that draws inspiration from Luigi Russolo. However, instead of the symphony of the streets, or the symphony of the machine-noise of the city, I want to attempt to create the symphony of the digital.

This would take the form of a sound-collage made from the sounds of the Media Archaeology lab. It would incorporate the aural capabilities of as many devices as possible. I believe this could be an interesting ‘remix’ of not only the sound one generally hears in the computer-saturated environment, but of the archive itself. By sonically juxtaposing old and new, entertainment and business, smoothly working and struggling to work, I think I can gesture at a kind of anarchive through sound.

While I cannot build my own noise machines, I can use my own computer to record, mix, and save the project.

The Technical Reproducibility of the Unconscious

Monday, April 14th, 2014 by willm2

I was interested in the passage from Discourse Networks: 1900 that discussed automatic writing (ecriture automatique). The experiments in automatic reading and writing done by Gertrude Stein have been interpreted as a kind of gate-way to the unconscious. Our good friend W.B. Yeats thought his wife’s automatic writing was actually spirit channeling. In both instances we see the body transformed into media itself (literally a psychic medium in the latter case). But is the automatic writer really transmitting their own unconscious mind? Kittler doesn’t think so; for him, automatic writing is writing about writing, perhaps similar to Derrida’s ‘arche-writing’. Automatic writing does nothing but expose the medium of writing as something purely discursive (in the sense of a discourse network). In a perverse way, however, by writing writing, we are indeed exposing deep truths about ourselves. After all, the totality of our experience and identity is delimited by that which media allows us.  It appears then that the purest expression of our identities is simultaneously a pure expression of our existence as technological media.

If we are merely the output of media, or perhaps media which outputs itself, then we have lost the dream of the Romantics, the figment of the soul which Kittler discusses in the 1800 portion of the book. And what is a soul but the solipsistic perception of our own personal aura? If we have souls then we become like the ritualized objects in Benjamin’s discussion. After all, we believe that like a piece of art, our identities are without precedent. Our souls dwell in some secret place within us, much like the ritual object in the tabernacle.

What does it mean, then, when this soul-aura is sucked into the gears of a typewriter, or the grooves of a gramophone? Do we as individuals become technically reproducible in Benjamin’s sense? Of course, Kittler would just say that we are simply moving from one discourse network to another, from the soul (1800) to the typeface (1900), but I’m interested to know if there is a Benjamin-esque argument about freedom from tradition that could be made instead.

 

Crary’s Techniques of the Observer

Sunday, April 6th, 2014 by willm2

 

One of the most interesting points Crary brings up in “Techniques of the Observer” is his claim that the optical devices of the 1830’s and 40’s render the user both “the magician and the deceived” (35). At the same time, devices like the stereoscope created illusions and revealed the mechanism of their creation, thereby deceiving and enlightening the viewer in the same moment. If the viewer understood that they were looking at nothing more than a trick, what was the allure? Following from Crary, it seems the answer is the overlap between mechanical illusion and the increasing mechanical nature of urban life during the age of stereoscope.

 

The tricks employed by optical devices matched the disorienting effects of high powered machinery that moved more quickly and in a vaster scope than anything experienced in the pre-industrial age. As opposed to the stereoscope or phenakistiscope, the techniques of operation were not laid bare in mechanisms of military or industrial purposes. The stereoscope, then, gave the viewer an illusion of control over the illusion presented to their vision. What the viewer’s optical nerves could not process at the factory, was rendered as something knowable and harmless by the unconcealed trickery at the heart of devices such as the kaleidoscope. As the magician and the deceived, the viewer could enjoy the visual-stimulation of an optical-illusion without being confounded by its operation. The viewer’s agency over their own sight-sense was preserved.

 

With the advent of photography, this imaginary agency was replaced by something less transparent but no less effective. As Crary explains, the photographic camera was misinterpreted as a “transparent and incorporeal intermediary between observer and world” (35). The user believed in their own uniqueness and importance as observer-agent not because they knew the trick of the camera, but because they fancied that the camera was nothing more than an extension of their own eye.

 

Deep Alchemy of Words

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by willm2

Marie Osmond (yes, *that* Marie Osmond) performing Hugo Ball’s “Karawane”. Poem begins at 1:33.

It was with great pleasure that I heard recitations of Hugo Ball’s poetry on UbuWeb. Simply reading the sound poems – as one would expect – did them absolutely no justice. While the poem ‘Gadji Beri Bimba‘ was composed consciously, when it was performed in 1916 by Ball, it devolved (evolved?) into an improvised dirge:

“…the dragging rhythm of the elements had permitted me a last crescendo, but how to continue to the end? I then noticed that my voice, which apparently had no other choice, was assumed an ancient cadence of sacerdotal lament in the style of the masses sung in the Catholic churches of the east and west. I do not know what this music inspired in me, but I began to sing my sequences of vowels in recitative liturgical manner. (http://www.ubu.com/sound/ball.html)”

This liturgical drone of glossolalia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossolalia) was not only Ball’s purview. Some of the Maori songs included under Tristan Tzara’s Dada poetry also come across as sound without meaning, or sound for sound’s sake. The typographic collages we looked at this week could also be said to be glossolalia on paper. As I read and listened to this nonsense given shape, I began to wonder about nonsense as a form of resistance not only in Dada, but in modern media. If glossolalia indeed represents a kind of ‘ur-language’ as some have suggested (novelists Paul Auster and Neal Stephenson to name a few), then does it also represent a space of expression that is unshaped by discourse? Following from Foucault, Kittler is famous for stating that technology uses us, rather than the other way around. The entire breadth of our expressive capabilities are dictated by machines and media which have circumscribed the discourse in which we exist as subjects. Dada poetry, speaking in tongues, automatic writing, can any or all of these give us an alternative to media-dictated experience?

While all three of these techniques appear to be nonsense on the surface, I would offer that what we think is nonsense only comes across that way because of its complete freedom from discourse. This leads to the question: can nonsense be commodified? Can media incorporate nonsense into something that no longer exists outside of discourse-networks? Do we see an example of this in the baffling video I embedded above? Or, perhaps, in the Talking Heads’ adaption of Ball’s ‘Gadji Beri Bimba’ for their fantastic song ‘I Zimbra’ (embedded below). Does the grafting of Ball’s sound poem onto comprehensible rhythms place it out of the realm of nonsense, or does it bring the original’s power into sharper relief?

Ernst and Kittler: To Write with Ink or Light?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 by willm2

I’m curious about the possible connection between Kittler’s theory of writing and Ernst’s treatment of histoire and discours. Specifically, do both men prefer the openness of writing compared to the black boxing of later media?

Kittler privileges writing – despite its nature as pan-media in the late 18th, early 19th centuries – because it relies upon human imagination to work. The author, presumably writing with an artistic intention, can encode the text with audiovisual data that flows from their imagination, through their physical form into a stylus, and then onto the page. There is some actual scientific truth to this idea. The human body’s electromagnetic field (‘the body-map’) can expand and envelop various tools which the human uses, rendering them into surrogate limbs or prostheses. The pen is one such device that can be integrated in this way. On the other end, the reader, or user, uses their imagination to recreate the coded audio visual data. Not only sensorial perception, but an encounter with the dead (through history) becomes possible, making written media the location of a very real afterlife. This is why the type-writer is so menacing for Kittler. It eliminates the poetic from the written document, simultaneously destroying the imagination and the afterlife in the process.

This narrative of the dead resonates with Ernst’s concept of discours. Discours is the brazenly subjective mode of history performed until the fall of writing as pan-media at about the time of the Daguerreotype in the 1820’s. The mechanical eye of the photograph, the ‘pencil of light’ as Talbot puts it, enables history to be represented as objectively true. Gone is the human narrator, replaced by the technological apparatus. Of course, Ernst does not believe that the content of the technological apparatus is ideologically pure. The mediatization is only hidden, where as before, in the case of written history, it was transparent. In discours, we understand that the past is formed by a subjective narrator, while in histoire, we are under the false perception that the photograph is presenting something objective. In the case of the latter, Ernst puts forth glitch theory as a method for exposing the hidden agenda of the ‘cold-gaze’. A forged photograph, for example, shows the biased inner-workings of the mechanism.

So, my question is this: Would Kittler agree that written media is preferable because it does not the hide its subjectivity? Does the poetic imagination that is encoded by author and decoded by reader broadcast the truth that there can be no objective history? That all history becomes personal, not only in its writing, but in its reading?

Kittler’s Literate Anxiety

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 by willm2

Kittler does a powerful job articulating how media is key to the concept of Foucauldian discourse networks. He criticizes Foucault (rightfully so) for ignoring how media works. Writing, as the original monolithic media, shaped discourse in innumerable ways. That which was not writing did not get to be ‘history’, banished instead to the uncivilized non-academic realm of ‘orality’.

Kittler seems to want to draw a connection between the pan-media of writing to the (at that point) future pan-media of fiber-optic cables. Just as writing collapsed all kinds of pre-existing media into a single mode, fiber optic cables have done the same by eliminating the rifts between film, radio, TV, and the rest. If the old-media replaced by fiber optic cables represented the isolated, yet still immensely powerful disciplinary institutions of the past, then the new pan-media is the society of control written about by Deleuze. In the past, the subject was forced into discrete institutions, each one beginning the process of subject formation anew (the home –> school –> military/factory –> prison/hospital); the society of control, on the other hand, can accommodate itself to the subject, creating a seamless pattern of shaping that extends well beyond the traditional workday/workweek of western civs. The pan-media of the internet is the ‘tool’ by which this modulation is accomplished.

Kittler is justifiably concerned over this turn of events. What confuses me, however, is why Kittler does not try to apply this same critique to writing in the past. He laments the loss of ‘poetic’ writing to the mechanistic discourse of the typewriter. For him, poetic imagination cannot be transmitted by a typewritten document. Kittler even seems to enjoy the pan-media nature of writing. He speaks of audio-visual data encoded into texts by the author and decoded by the reader. Writing/reading is a creative practice that is swept away by the compartmentalization of audio/visual data into separate systems like film and radio. Kittler even infuses writing with the power to bring memory, and thus, the dead, back into the present (words “quiver with sensuality and memory”). How can writing, a type of media just as pervasive as Kittler’s prediction of the fiber-optic world, be privileged in this way? Is Kittler just a German Romanticist at heart?

Dial-up Internet: My Triumphs, My Mistakes

Monday, February 17th, 2014 by willm2

I started using the internet when I was in 7th or 8th grade. My parents had a 2400 baud modem donated to them by “techie” friends and a PC with windows 3.1. I had had some experience with BBS, Gopher, and other proto-www interfaces, but this was my first experience with the web as viewed through a browser, in this case Netscape Navigator.  While dialing up to the internet never presented much of a problem, actually surfing the web was another story. I remember waiting a good half an hour for the images to load on some websites. When we upgraded to a 14.4k modem, things became a little easier. I could even play games on-line with friends. This was a whole new beast of troubleshooting for me. When my friend and I would finally get the game to work, it was like a miracle. Some rite of technomancy had been performed, numbers and lines of code had been incanted just right.

My return to dial-up in the MAL had shades of the same alchemical mystery to it. Kyle and I struggled for an hour trying to input the correct numerical sequence into the iBook’s Remote Access software, all to no avail. No matter which permutation of the dial-up phone number we entered, the modem refused to speak to the bits in the wire. As it turned out, our flaw was not in the ingredients of the alchemical mixture, but in the vial itself. One of us (I blame Kyle) had plugged the phone line into the wrong port in the iBook. After we switched it, the internet came alive like the homunculus or golem of lore. Sadly the modem did not make the bestial hiss and screech that I remembered from my youth (then again, this would have been falling into the trap of nostalgia). Even though there was a smart-phone in my pocket at the time, I still felt the rush of excitement and possibility of having complete access to a realm whose boundaries none had yet to sketch. I think that early dial-up www was one of the moments Zielinski mentions: a point in media-history where diversity is rich and heterogeneity the norm. The difficulty of getting on to the internet, let alone navigating it properly, had the unexpected effect of creating spaces of unmediated creativity. There was no framework for expression as is the case now with the blog, twitter, tumblr, and facebook platforms (all designed to make the internet a more comprehensible space). Since there were there no established platforms, no one knew exactly what to do with this new sandbox. Witness the websites of the 96 election, archived as they appeared 18 years ago.

I accessed these sites on the 56k dial-up iBook and thus managed to get a fairly accurate sense of what it was like to use the internet back then. Data appeared piecemeal, sometimes not appearing at all, leading to a kind of persistent glitch. Only half a page would load, or text would load in place of image. Thanks to these frequent glitches, one could see the inner workings of the then-primitive HTML. Like cars up until the 1980s, one could pop open the hood and figure out roughly what was going on. I recall the dial-up age as being a time when almost everyone I knew (all middle schoolers mind you) knew how to program the basics of HTML. Everyone was a tinkerer, everyone a builder. Rising complexity does not equal rising diversity, and as websites became more elaborate, the codes fell into fewer and fewer hands, leading to the net we know today, a series of platforms that do everything in their power to limit the users ability to modify or tinker with their own experience.

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Monday, February 10th, 2014 by willm2

I really enjoyed the interview with McKensie Wark that Lori e-mailed us last week. I was particularly taken with Wark’s description of Facebook as a company whose wealth is based on a surplus of information, rather than resources. It’s hard to deny both Wark and Deleuze’s contention that we are living in a post-production capitalist world. “Capital” is no longer a mass of things to be exchanged for other things, but a hoard/horde of information that can be mobilized for a variety of purposes beyond profit. Certainly we do see information used for profit with companies like Google or Facebook who use targeted advertising, but we can see far more sinister applications with the NSA and the FBI. This article of a falsely accused man in 2004 brings home the danger of too much information (http://boingboing.net/2014/02/09/a-reason-to-hang-him-mass.html).

Too much information, especially if concentrated in a single agency, can be shaped to form any narrative that agency thinks it sees or desires to see. I feel like this ties back to Deleuze’s statement that rather than the individual/mass dichotomy present in a disciplinary society, our current model of social control renders us as ‘dividuals’. When Facebook mobilizes our own data in order to feed us content we want to see (whether ads or which of our “friends'” updates it thinks we want) it is fashioning us into beings who exist merely as receivers of content. The interactions we are taught to want are ones that reinforce the identity which we are receiving.  As Wark notes, even play is within the context of commerce thanks to the fusion of social networking and gaming. My beloved SNES, I’m sad to say, is just a prehistoric version of this same dynamic. Thus, as our identities become self-serving we can no longer be viewed as a ‘mass’ or a ‘crowd’ as was the case in the disciplinary society of our past.

Where does this leave us with regards to resistance? Neither Wark nor Deleuze say. Examples like Anonymous and Occupy spring to mind, but aside from a few scattered victories, these movements have largely been crushed or mitigated. One avenue worth discussing is that of the end of the password, and the end of content gating in general. For Deleuze, the password is emblematic of the society of control. It can permit and reject access to information (the new capital) based on the criteria of the elite. On the web we imagine that passwords protect us, but as anyone who has been hacked or spied on can attest to (none of us I hope), the password is nothing more than an illusion of safety sold to us by the entities which are least troubled by it. Perhaps an internet where security is done away with absolutely could function as a way forward? Certainly Wikileaks and the Snowden leaks have shown the benefits of complete openness in limited cases.

Bruce Sterling / transmediale 2014 afterglow Opening Ceremony

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 by willm2

I thought this was pretty interesting with regards to our class. It’s kinda long (23 minutes), and Sterling is a bit of a weirdo, but it’s still worth a watch.

His thesis in a nutshell: “You’re good if you’re building something.”

Bruce Sterling’s wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Sterling

The Digital Crowd

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 by willm2

“At this time we urge people to never turn off their lights, and under no circumstances close their eyes for any extended period of time.”

http://www.theonion.com/articles/nation-terrified-after-millions-lose-consciousness,35112/

Last week I read the Poe short story ‘A Man of the Crowd’ for a class on the psychic life of the city in the 19th century. In the story we see an average citizen swept up in the crowd as he gives pursuit to a stranger; he tracks the man all night, running roughshod over the hours normally reserved for sleep. The crowd of the metropolis, represented by the titular man in the story, represents unending stimulation of the senses. The crowd is without purpose or destination; they wander aimlessly, exposing their senses to the limitless possibilities of consumerism. Goods and advertisements reach out for them at every turn, illuminated by the never dimming gas-lights. If they cannot buy, they look as a mode of surrogate consumption. Alternately, they may be so overwhelmed with choice that they cannot make a decision. Around the next corner may be an even more dazzling product, an even more fulfilling transaction.

I think there are strong parallels to 24/7 here. The series of glowing screens which carry our attention from morning to night present unlimited possibilities for gratification. Because they persist non-stop, sleep loses its significance as a mode of solitude and introversion.  If we let ourselves be swept away in the digital currents, the possibility of finding that perfect product or that perfect distraction will keep us going. In both Poe’s short story and 24/7 we wander aimlessly. The concept of destination is impossible, for it would mean the end of stimulation. Even if we manage to disengage from the crowd, or unplug from our devices, we know that both continue without us, and that they will be waiting for us when we wake.

 

 

GOOGLE GLITCH

Monday, January 27th, 2014 by willm2

Google Glass is one part utopian cyborg interface and nine parts aggressive modification. Returning to a thread from last week’s discussion, Google Glass is explicitly intended to mold the user into a subject that not only sees the world differently, but interacts with it in a radically new way. Before the device can use us properly it must condition us to its mode of operation. Glass would like to extend data-mining and self surveillance to our immediate physical world. Whereas smartphones and modern web-browsers are only able to capture traces of our consumer identity (through cookies, targeted advertising, amazon’s associative product recommendation, etc…), Google Glass literally wants to see through our eyes and walk in our shoes. Glass is not an information resource like the internet, or a tool for exchange, but a pure data-miner. If Eric Schmidt of Google wants to capitalize on the limited ‘eyeball-time’ of the consumer, Glass is a brazen attempt to literally hijack our eyeballs from us like the sandman of folklore. Whatever data Glass can glean from our physio-optical behavior can be processed and routed back to us with suggestions for improvement, thus creating a feedback loop of user-modification similar to that used by e-commerce sites for some time now. As a hypothetical example: Glass knows that you bike in such a way that much of your peddling energy is wasted. Glass suggests either electronic or mechanistic mods to your bike to remedy this. In a prosaic way your physical form has been shaped by the exchange of data with Google.

However, the user at this point in time is not ready to become a vector for such a device. Compare Glass to iOS devices, which seem to effortlessly meld with our minds and bodies, creating a sense that the device is a utilitarian extension of ourselves, no different than a walking stick a pair of running shoes. Glass, on the other hand, is an interface disaster. Again, unlike other devices which can be figured out without any instruction manual, Glass is counter-intuitive. Neither voice commands nor manual manipulation lead to predictable results, at least not from my hour or so spent with the device. A video tutorial is necessary for achieving even basic functionality. It reminded me of my earliest childhood experiences with DOS (Dark Obscure System) and the feeling that my method of interacting with the world was being forcibly reshaped into something different, like a plowshare being beaten into a sword. Due to the tortuous attempt at turning the user into a Glass-subject, Glass becomes a glitch masquerading as a device. Through the frequent mistakes (did I just delete that?), navigational maroonings (how did I get here?), navigational imprisonment (how do I get out of here?), and near catastrophic misuse (did I really just send that to every friend in the Google + network?), Glass calls attention to itself through error. If it had been a seamless experience like my first iPhone, perhaps I would have been swallowed up by the 24/7 continuity of hypercapitalism Crary writes on. Instead, through systemic glitch, I could see clearly what Glass wanted from me, and how little I wanted it back.