Status update functionality

“Status update” now appears as one of the dominant functionalities in a variety of the most popular social networking software. This functionality constitutes a key site for understanding software culture. As mundane as this functionality might seem, one of its important aspects in terms of communication media is that it acts as a conversation generator. In platforms geared towards many-to-many communication, everyone has now become equally “responsible” for starting the conversation. Communication no longer starts from a “How are you?” but rather starts from a collective void, a silence that needs to be broken, but whose annihilation becomes the task of anybody and everybody. The status update functionality presents the task of shouting into the void, into that empty space to which hopefully someone will respond. We have already become so accustomed to things called the newsfeed that a time in which everybody tells everybody what they are doing at any given moment seems perfectly normal. It is important to look beyond the ordinariness of the content communicated through the status update functionality and return to the fact that this is really a form of communication in the first place.

Status updates now go hand in hand with commenting. Communication in the status update age becomes the equation of the “eating the best falafel ever” update and the “cool, where is it at?” comment. Interestingly this has evolved gradually. The functionality of being able to tune into the “conversation” through a comments function is fairly new to the Facebook universe. Nevertheless this recent addition has had a great impact on the ways that communication takes place on the social networking site.

Whereas some have pointed out the phatic dimension of status updates, I think the ‘like’ functionality is the truly phatic dimension of the equation. The ‘like’ functionality should not be underestimated as it fulfils a very important role. It constitutes an easy way of saying I am with you on this, thereby affirming the utterance and expressing one’s presence and attention towards the other. Today, only a button has to be pressed in order to enter the conversation and maybe more importantly, to enter the conversation without having to continue it. It signals the most cost-effective way of maintaining the social network. The introduction of the ‘like’ functionality at a point in time where many people have been members of Facebook for a while and are steadily working on expanding their social networks can be seen as corresponding to an increased demand for the ability to effortless nurturing an ever-growing network of “friends”.

NYC

I’m in NYC this spring as a visiting scholar at the Department of Media, Culture and Communication, NYU. The intellectual stimuli and the peace (who’d guessed) to work here is great. Some of the things that I think about these days:

  • software studies: what is it and what should it be? Can it be something in between culture and code, or is it the and that counts? Is balance possible at all and  if not, who should “win”, the computer scientists or the cultural analysts?
  • what methologies can we use to circumvent disciplinary clinches of software studies?
  • how can we delineate software? Where do you draw the boundaries between software and hardware? or what would be the consequence of illimitability?
  • how to avoid screen essentialism when studying social networking sites taken into account that most of the code remains hidden? 
  • can we study ‘just’ the building without taking the architect, the concrete of the walls, or the people walking through it into account?

social media art part 1

Artists are often the ones who are able to express and experiment with the Zeitgeist as it unfolds – at least compared to the rather rigid world of academic publishing. I therefore turn to the arts for inspirations and explorations within my own field of research. There are many cool art projects out there that try to experiment with the implications and meaning of social media. Some projects experiment with the very essence of web 2.0 discourse – with user-generated content and participatory culture – such as @platea. Platea, i s a global collective of individuals interested in the power of public art carried out in the digital megacity of social media. Founded by the New York based artists An Xiao, Platea experiments with collective performances using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Photo via mcescobar1 on Flickr
photo via mcescobar1 on Flickr

One of their projects that I find particularly intriguing was the Dive in which they experimentet with the fact  that status updates tend to move downstream on people’s newsfeeds and eventually disappearing all  together. “If it’s a busy day and you have a lot of friends, these updates slide down quickly. If it’s a slow day,  they get there eventually. Imagine a picture of yourself diving through this space, gradually making your way  down your friends’ news feeds.”

status grabber
photo via Turbulence

Speaking about creative explorations with social media and status updates, another interesting project that I came across is the recently  Turbulence commissioned net art work Status Grabber by Liz Filardi. A representative of the social networking service status grabber calls strangers to request very short “status updates”. This analogue service mimics the social activity of users on Facebook andTwitter, where users stay connected without directly interacting. Status Grabber is part of a project called I’m Not Stalking You; I’m Socializing, an exploration of how social networking changes the ways in which we relate to one another and enrich our lives.

Programmed aesthetics

Electroplastique 1

by Marius Watz

Excerpts from software artist Marius Watz work ElectroPlatique #1. I am currently attending a course that he is teaching at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts on ‘Programmed aesthetics’ where we are working with Processing – an open source programming language used by designers and artists to program images and interactions. I am beginning to understand Kittler’s assertion that every media student should know at least two programming languages. I am slowly getting there. Although difficult for a humanist to try and get a grips on, I am definitely fascinated by the strange world of ‘pushMatrix’ and ‘xdelta’ syntax. Maybe it was never meant to be French nor Spanish after all…

Flarf – poetry in the Google age

Recently I attended a conference on search engines where I stumbled across the poetry movement Flarf.

Flarf is poetry made from a cut-up technique using Google search results. Poets search the Internet for random and unusual terms like ”deer head” or ” Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dog”. Flarf poets take today’s society as it presents itself, and give it back to us; abstracted, enlarged and ridiculed.

Poetry magazine dedicated one of their latest issues to flarf. The issues’ editor Kenneth Goldsmith writes the following in his introduction to the 21st Century’s most controversial poetry movements:

”This new poetry wears its sincerity on its sleeve . . . yet no one means a word of it. Come to think of it, no one’s really written a word of it. It’s been grabbed, cut, pasted, processed, machined, honed, flattened, repurposed, regurgitated, and reframed from the great mass of free-floating language out there just begging to be turned into poetry”.

Is Flarf just the inevitable transformation of poetry in the age of user-generated, cut-and-paste and remixed culture of the Internet? Is it poetry for the people by the people? In a world in excess of and overwhelmed with words, maybe recycling these words is just the right strategy.

”With so much available language, does anyone really need to write more? Instead, let’s just process what exists. Language as matter; language as material.” In keeping with Goldsmith I searched Google myself and gave Flarf a try. Here is my own Flarf poem for the search term “Existentialism of a Sea Lion”.

The compact skin of a sea lion

Hungry, fierce, lonesome, God-forsaken

At most he tolerates the level sea

Existentialists say that the smallest,

Most absurd, even basic, actions are leading us to our meaning

But the inner lion destroys the values of the dragon

His oily, callous, headstrong look

Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon?

I especially like novels about what I call ‘the existential problem’

Of the hard and compact skin of a sea lion

The body is merely a series of readjustments

It is pointed out that Hemingway has great respect for the lion

As an animal that meets death with dignity

But if you cross over the sea

It looks as if someone’s totally misunderstood the concept of “sea lion”

Two days later another story surfaced, this time of a sea lion

The anxiety of existence

I hope I have given a good overview of the existentialist themes

Of that oily, horny, stubborn look

And the compact skin of a sea lion

Radicality in art today?

Does radicality in art exist today? This was the question that was asked last Thursday at Litteraturhuset in Oslo. The French art theorist and curator Nicolas Bourriaud was there to debate this question together with the Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk and the Danish academic Michael Bolt, who has been an outspoken sceptic of Bourriaud’s concept of relational aesthetics. Bourriaud’s perspective was that radicality is not possible today because it is impossible to back to the kind of environment of 20th century modernism in which the avant-garde movement could be radical. Bourriaud pointed out that if taking the etymolog of the radical seriously, understood as roots, or going to the origins, radicality today is not possible.

According to Bourriaud we have to give up two attitudes in order to move on. On the one hand we have to give up the attitude of nostalgia of modernism and get rid of the metal trap of post-modernism, or post-everything. The whole post prefix of the last 30 years, resulting in terms such as post structuralism, post colonial, post feminism, post humanism etc., has given us the impression that we are too late, that there really is nothing to be done but to look back and analyse how to handle the effects of the events upon which everything in the present grew out of. Bourriaud proposes instead the concept of the radicant, understood as an organism that grows its roots on the ground, a term better fit for describing where we should go with art from here. Whereas 20th century modernism was radical, our modernism will be radicant, growing roots while it evolves or grows.

The central goal for the art field then, is to break loose from postmodernism and the extreme preoccupation with identity, that in Bourriaud’s account acts as a “war machine”. Identity, according to Bourriaud, is an ideological virus that the political field has been structured around, reducing everything to the question: “Where do you come from?”

Jeanne van Heeswijk agreed with Bourriaud, that it is impossible to go back to the avant-garde in the sense that we are not naïve anymore. We are still amateurs, she says, but not naïve. We are learning while doing and being aware of the process as it goes, which comes close to the notion of the radicant, of growing roots while growing, as opposed to radical, as going back to some pre-existing root, or original.

The radicant should be understood as the central aspect of the specific cultural context we live in understood as globalization and concerned with multiculturalism, which Bourriaud calls the altermodern. Back in April I visited the fourth Tate Triennial at Tate Britain curated by Nicolas Bourriaud and also named the Altermodern. What Bourriaud seems to suggest is that we have to take our own specific being in time seriously and not fall back on postmodernism and its master narrative of identity. Identity isn’t about origins or history anymore, but about a kind of immediacy, a simultaneous presence, which ultimately is about the experience of time and space concurring into the same point. Or as Bourriaud explained in a recent interview: “The modernity that is coming is based on this globalized state of the imagination, on the individual’s ability to exist not in a form of being but in permanent becoming, on the artist’s capacity to invent forms that aren’t indexed on an identity but on displacement, on the permanent rotation of signs and on the formation of paths within a quasi-infinite landscape of signs and available forms, on a planetary scale”. Times have changed fundamentally and maybe most profoundly through the cultural and economic ramifications of globalization, including the Internet. What seems at stake is to establish an emergence of a state of mind situated in the here and now, rather than seeking roots or going back.

Distraction: everyday experience with the Internet

“Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives” Henry David Thoreau

An important part of everyday experience with media technologies and their time regimes is distraction. Particularly the Internet lends itself as the ultimate distraction from everyday working tasks. The compulsion to check e-mails twenty times a day, checking in on Facebook and Twitter, searching endlessly on the web for something, anything and nothing have become common everyday experiences marked by both pleasure and guilt. Distraction is seemingly desirable and wrong at the same time and intrinsically linked to procrastination. Even reading an academic book or article, away from the computer screen is coupled with frequent ruptures excused by the fact that one must check a concept or reference on the web, resulting in minutes, even hours gone on Wikipedia, Google and blogs.

19th and 20th century distraction Now, distraction through media technologies is nothing new. The 19th century style version of media-induced demands on attention can be seen in Henry D. Thoreau’s essay “Life Without Principle” from 1863. “In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while”. Moving on to the 20th century and the media of film, Siegfried Kracauer viewed the modern subject’s relationship to the world as ultimately a ‘distracted’ one. In both Kracauer’s and Walter Benjamin’s accounts of films in the 1920s and 1930s, distraction was linked to the reception of films, as a mode of perception that required no real attention. Although Benjamin’s views on the film was on a more positive note than Kracauer’s, he didn’t see the film fit for states of contemplation as the movie by virtue of its technique constantly interrupts thought through the introduction of new images.

However, we can no longer talk about contemplation as the valuable state of mind in the same way that Benjamin and Kracauer could. We live in a world of distraction, or more correctly distraction by choice. It is not that we are naïve, we are fully aware that we are effective time wasters and distraction seekers. Instead of asking: Is this a bad thing? What can we do? We should ask: What are we distracted and diverted from? And how does the media address subjects in an environment characterized by attention deficit and the everyday experience of distraction?

High versus low culture? In terms of modes of attuning to and perception of culture in general, distraction has typically been linked to the reception of mass culture, while the mode of concentration and contemplation has been ascribed as a feature of perception linked to high culture and traditional works of art (see for example Jonathan Crary‘s book “Suspension of perception”). To be immersed in and to take the time to fully adhere to a work of art or a novel seems to be miles away from today’s accelerated society with time regimes characterized by demands for immediacy. When things need to go fast, distraction seems to both constitute and be constituted by modern media and their time regimes.

The great distraction of cheking If we want to understand contemporary media we must understand what our experiences with these media are today. Talking to students and people in their 20s today it is evident that the Internet is experienced as the great distraction. It seems that the compulsive behaviour of checking is one of the most dominant aspects of Internet use today. Does the constant checking of mails, social network sites, online news, Google, give us better control, or is it the other way around? Why is knowing that nothing new has happened since the last time I checked e-mail comforts us, or that seeing 2 new messages in the inbox can fill us with joy and excitement? Who are we hoping reaches out for us, who is the other that we are waiting for?

Getting lost on the web and switching between multiple browser windows at the same time is part of this experience with distraction. Logging on and opening one window after another, putting the different sites to work on their loading of content, switching impatiently back and forth swifts attention away. Divided between the multiple sites one’s attention becomes scattered.

Continuous partial attention Linda Stone problematizes the effects of media technologies on states of distraction and attention deficit through what she calls continuous partial attention – a constant desire to connect and be connected. According to Stone: “We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter. We pay continuous partial attention in an effort not to miss anything”.

So we don’t want to miss anything, and maybe we cannot even afford to miss out anymore as life today is spent online. In considering the way in which we spend our lives, questions concerning distraction, diversions and attention becomes pressing. The Internet may feel like a distraction, whether welcoming or unwanted. What we need to understand is what the current media condition of checking really amounts to, why do feel drawn towards interruptions and checking e-mail 20 times a day? If Facebook is a waste of time, what should be the real purpose of our time? When the Internet is experienced in terms of distraction, what kind of space and time do we inhabit? Being distracted and interrupted from something and diverging into the realm of the web, how can we understand the dual state of mind that distraction promotes? And how can we understand the ontology of everyday distraction in the realm of our experience with the Internet?

Antimatter

Talking to my geologists’ father about physics I have become fascinated by antimatter that is by the existence of a substance that destroys everything it touches. Quite literally anti-matter is the opposite of matter, particles with reversed electrical charge, but with the same mass. The counterpart of a proton is called the antiproton and the electron’s counterpart is called a positron.

The mixing of matter with anti-matter would lead to the annihilation of both – disappearing in a burst of energy. The asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the visible universe is one of the greatest unsolved problems in physics. Particle physicists believe that equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created at the beginning of the universe, at the time of the big bang. The fact that there is just matter today, at least in this part of the universe, prompts the question of “what happened to the antimatter”?

Antimatter doesn’t really exist in our universe, but is produced in small quantities at CERN and is currently used in medicine, in PET scans for locating cancer and monitoring brain activity. In 1928 the British physicist Paul Dirac formulated a theory for the motion of electrons in electronic and magnetic fields and predicted that electrons must have an “antiparticle”. Four years later, in 1932, Carl Anderson observed the first known example of antimatter experimentally – the positron.

Antimatter fascinates, and it is difficult to imagine the immediate annihilation that takes place from a meeting between matter and antimatter. This totalizing devastating effect has inspired many science fiction writers and has recently been used in the plot of Angels & Demons, where antimatter is stolen from a secret CERN laboratory in order to make weapons out of it. Read more about antimatter on http://angelsanddemons.cern.ch

The professionalization of being looked at

Two weeks ago I attended a New Yorker Festival event , conversations with music, where New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones interviewed the singer-songwriter Neko Case. Particularly I found their conversations about the changing music business interesting.

One of the things Case touched upon was the effect of You Tube on live performances. The pressure has become high to deliver and perform stellar performances. What will the web do to music? Everything is potentially being captured by mobile phones and other digital devices and immediately broadcasted on You Tube. Are live shows sacred anymore? One of the concerns that Case raised was the extent to which watching and listening increasingly takes place through the mobile phone. Are we becoming more preoccupied with recording the event than by the event itself? Are our opinions about what takes place on the stage informed by the performance it self or by “everybody” else’s tweets? This is a question that at least seems to be pressing when visiting academic conferences these days, but that’s another story. Check Twitter approximately 8 minutes after a show, Case said. That’s when the comments really kick in.

Strangely what I find missing somewhat from the whole user-generated content, comments society, fan-blogging, critical audience debate are the actual celebrities. Do we just assume that celebrities are “good at” dealing with attention? How has the rise of social media changed the professionalization of being looked at? Frere-Jones went on about Grace Jones and how she is a rare example of someone utterly at ease with the implications of gaze.

In what ways does it affect celebrities, musicians in this case, when their fans and audience get to say what they think at any time? It seems to be difficult enough to ignore the tabloid press, but how does one manage the contemporary gaze, the being looked at and commented upon in times of user-generated content?

Hello world!

Welcome to Immedia. This is the website/blog of Taina Bucher. Mostly I am using this site as my personal page here on the Internet with info about my research and contact details. Occasionally I will also use the blog to post things related to my PhD on new media and other things that I am interested in or fascinated with. In terms of my PhD this includes issues related to software studies, social media, media philosophy, aesthetics, methodology, technology and media theories more generally. In terms of other interests this includes amongst other things issues in popular culture, physics, music, art ++