Monthly Archives: March 2011

Virtual Reality

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Chris Grayson in Augmented Reality Overview discusses how augmented reality is interwoven with technology, allowing for the integration of the virtual and the real. He argues the potential technology has to improve our work environments. The key aspect of augmented reality is that it is a more a mediation of reality as opposed to virtual reality which replaces the real world. For example, a conference on skype can be taken to be augmented reality as it is in real time, but people aren’t physically in the same place for the meeting.

In understanding the readings for the week, many issues arise some with positive impact and others with danger signs. Just as much as augmented reality and mediation has the potential to benefit us, it can also be dangerous. In Slavoj Zizek’s Perverts Guide to Cinema, he makes this statement:

“Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously. It’s, on the contrary, not to take fictions seriously enough. You think its just a game? Its reality. It’s more real than it appears to you. For example, people who play video games, they adopt a persona of a sadist, rapist, whatever. The idea is, in reality I’m a weak person, so in order to supplement my real life weakness, I adopt the false image of a strong, sexually promiscuous person, and  so on and so on. So this would be the naive reading… But what if we read it in the opposite way? That this strong, brutal rapist, whatever, identity is my true self. In the sense that this is the psychic truth of myself and that in real life, because of social constrains and so on, I’m not able to enact it. So that, precisely because I think it’s only a game, it’s only a persona, a self-image I adopt in virtual space, I can be there much more truthful. I can enact an identity which is much closer to my true self. “

Zizek raises a very interesting point; the mediation of reality doesn’t change the person, but it often puts them in a position where they do things wouldn’t ordinarily do. And this can be seen a wide range of augmented realities; from the teenager talking on MSN to their crush who they wouldn’t dare approach at school, to Zizek’s example of a brutal rapist using technology to behave in a socially unacceptable manner. Murphie says this idea is “in any given moment of individuation there is an excess over the actual expressions of this individuation. This excess – the real network from which real potentials arise – is the virtual”. Individuation and the idea of true-self comes out of these augmented and virtual realities but to a certain extent confuses things.

The potential that Chris Grayson describes in augmented reality is exciting, and will no doubt be further developed as technology advances. However, the idea of individuation and the dangers that lie behind giving people too much freedom and taking away social values in mediated realities is questionable.

This has some relation to the memory topic we looked at last week, and is potentially something to pursue for the research assignment – the role mediated realities play in the externalisation of memory.

References:

Grayson, Chris (2009) ‘Augmented Reality Overview’, GigantiCo

Murphie, Andrew (2004) ‘The World’s Clock: The Network Society and Experimental ecologies’, Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, 11, Spring

 

Global Mnemotechnics

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Mnemotechnics describes the externalisation of our memory. Upon first hearing this, the notion can sound daunting and almost like some Frankenstein experiment where our they extract our brains and memory. But really, we’ve been externalising our memory for years through even the most simple of things like writing. Bernard Stiegler labels these forms as mnemotechnologies:

“Ideogrammatic writing springing up after the neolithic period leads to the alphabet – which yet today organizes the agenda of the manager, but this calendary object is henceforth an apparatus : the personal data planner; and it is no longer a mnemotechnic, but a mnemotechnology”. (Stiegler n.d.)

We write notes to ourselves and use diaries to plan our weeks because our own minds cannot keep track of it all. Stiegler’s claim that to write these memories down makes it knowledge. This gives it great value for if a piece of paper with important notes is lost, that knowledge is also lost.

Stiegler describes our growing reliance on technologies: “Now, these cognitive technologies, to which we confide a greater and greater part of our memory, cause us to lose an ever-greater part of our knowledge. To lose a cell phone is to lose the trace of the telephone numbers of our correspondents and to realise that they are no longer in the psychical memory but in the apparatuss’s.” (Stiegler n.d.)

The more we understand this, the more we can recognise how reliant we are on external objects to hold our memories and knowledge. Andy Clark and David Chalmers consider this in their book The Extended Mind and look at our cognitive processes and external objects as a system. This reminds of me of the European theory of media ecology and the idea of complex systems, interdependent upon each other.

Do we become more dependent on mnemotechnologies and external objects because our own memory can’t contain it all and we need to be, or because it’s easier for us? In the movie Memento, Guy Pearce’s character suffers from short term memory loss and can’t create any new memories. Instead he takes polaroid photos of people he meets and writes notes about them, and tattoos important information on his body. Here is forced to rely on external objects to help him remember, but at times his short term memory loss is dangerous.

Perhaps we need to consider whether our dependence on mnemotechnologies means our memory is not getting the credit it deserves and we could find ourselves in situations where we need to rely on our own memory but can’t.

Final Project: This has got me thinking about how new media extend our memory potential, and our relationship with them because of this.

References:

Stiegler, Bernard (n.d.) ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation’ <http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis>

Chalmers, David (2009) ‘The Extended Mind Revisited [1/5], at Hong Kong, 2009’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S149IVHhmc>

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_Mind>

Dynamic media ecologies

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Of all the aspects and interpretations of the term ‘media ecology’, the idea that has struck me most is the notion of dynamism. Fuller captures this when he says, “The term ‘ecology’ is used here because it is one of the most expressive language currently has to indicate the massive and dynamic interrelation of processes and objects, beings and things, patterns and matter….” (Fuller 2005)

Lance Strate’s definition, where the focus is on the idea that “technology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication play a leading role in human affairs,” is crucial in understanding that media ecology does express a sense of dynamism. How can something that is so closely connected to humanity be static and unchanging?

In looking at the different elements (particularly in Strate’s definition), it becomes clearer that ‘ecology’ is indeed the most appropriate term. To a certain extent we can call it a network but it fails to capture the dynamic essence of the way media and society interact. Nor is ‘chain’ accurate enough, for we established last week that each element has an influence upon the other. I can’t say that the technology and techniques are what create new modes of information and codes of communication alone. ‘Ecology’ illustrates the complexity of the system.

But why is it so important to use the term ‘media ecology’ and understand it? Tomas, in his blog A Great Becoming, sees the term ‘media ecology’ as “an approach that offers us new ways of viewing the world.   Once you start to see media as networked – connected – then the realisation of this confluence changes how you approach design.” I think he makes a really important point; understanding how we are connected to media either through influence or being influenced, will change how we respond to it.

Therefore, it’s important that we see look at media, society, culture, technology, techniques, communication, information, etc., all as part of media ecology and understand that they all feed off each other and play a vital role in the evolution of media and society.

Final project: In terms of the final research paper, understanding the complexity of media ecologies is something I need to keep in mind when choosing a specific topic, because everything is in some way interrelated.

References:

Fuller, Matthew (2005) ‘Introduction: Media Ecologies’ in Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture Cambridge, MA; MIT Press: 1-12

Media Ecology Association ‘What is Media Ecology’ <http://www.media-ecology.org/media_ecology/>

‘Media Ecology’, Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_ecology>

Technological determinsm or Cultural materialism?

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“Necessity is the mother of invention”.

It’s a well-known phrase that is often quoted by people, and while the meaning is clear to all who use it, no one really knows where it comes from. (Click here for possible origins) Academics like Raymond Williams and Brian Winston have built upon this notion in supporting the idea that technological inventions emerge from social needs. Winston suggests that ‘supervening social necessities’ play a large role in directing the process of innovation (Murphie and Potts 2002). Williams used the term ‘cultural materialism’ to describe this idea that economic, political and institutional factors influence cultural change out which comes technology.

Canadian philospher and cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan proposes an alternative idea:

“Invention is the mother of necessities.”

Found on Marshall McLuhan’s website, this phrase is a “McLuhanism“. McLuhan believes that our culture is dictated by the technologies we have, all which are merely extensions of our human capacities. But in response to this, Williams says that: “if the medium is the cause, all other causes, all that men ordinarily see as history, are at once reduced to effects.” (quoted in Murphie and Potts 2002).

But why can’t it be both? I think we can see the ways where technology does influence culture and create new values, but there are also times where necessity has influenced new technology to fill the gap that is required. Stephen Hill says, “Technological change…is not, by itself, productive of social change. Instead, the direction of change is a product of the particular alignment between the technological possibilities and the society and culture that exists (1989:33).” (quoted from Murphie and Potts 2002)

I think Hill’s claim captures the reconciliation of technological determinism and cultural materialism. This suggests that the context in which technological advances are made influences how it impacts society and culture.

Saskia Sassen in “The Internet as Playground and Factory“, talked about  Forest Watch and and Indigenous group of people who had their own form of communication. Their communication is determined by the technologies they have. Likewise, in the last few years our forms of communication are changing. It used to be that phones were the best way to get in contact with someone, then mobile phones and now it’s often quick and more effective to e-mail someone or message them on Facebook. But Hill is saying that the existing culture is an important factor, it’s not an effect, which is what McLuhan implies.

For instance, if (and you have to ignore a lot of impractical and illogical factors in this ‘if’) the iPad was invented over 100 years ago, how would it have impacted the culture that existed then? They don’t have the same experiences that we have now to help them understand the impact. It’s not just the fact that technology is created, but rather it builds upon a previous version of itself. There are very few technologies that just appear having no base technology at all.I think to a certain extent that’s one of the distinctions that can be made when looking at technological determinism and cultural materialism. You can’t really argue one without the other.

References:

Murphie, Andrew and Potts, John (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38

Saskia Sassen (2009) ‘The Internet as Playground and Factory’ <http://vimeo.com/6789940>