week 1 – summary

My main challenge for the week was getting to grips with the WordPress platform. Looking at a blank digital canvas is always a creative delight to me, intuitively exploring the features and graphics of the environment.This piecing together is like digital tapestry, a patchwork of choices which are constantly evaluated and evolving.

Martin Hand (2008) gives a detailed outline of digital culture at the broadest level, including the socio-economic and political dimensions. For this I explorerd issues around commodification and consumerism. David Bell (2001) highlights various classifications surrounding story telling and how this relates to definitions of cyberspace. Utopian and dystopian views were illustrated by the film week clips and discussions on Synchtube and Twitter,with additional nominations for the film festival.Clips on language and cyberculture were also selected.

Mark Poster’s article offered my tweet on ‘Spam’ an ethical perspective. This blog (and everyone else’s) seems relentlessly hit by spam. Interestingly spam illustrates the inherent contradiction of mock digital persona vs the sales-driven activity of companies targeting potential customers.

I enjoyed looking back at my own computer interaction history and realised that I could start off illustrating my musical interests (rooted into 80s electronic music) as an accompanying sound board for my blog. The fusion of sound and images is to me the ultimate realisation of deepening an online experience, be it for educational or other purposes. I had a first read of Jonathan Sterne’s article, which will give me scope for exploring soundscapes. The concept of ‘boundaries’ and ‘flatness’ will also be kept in mind.

I continued with the expansion of my Pinterest pinboard for this module’s topic. I also revisted bubbl.us as I thought it would be a useful way to mindmap the interconnected strands of information discussed.

My plan for a visual sound board proves more complex involving online aesthetics and looking at how we engage with online art spaces.

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Fuzzy boundary Ethics

Act only on the maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law

(from Emmanuel Kant, quoted in Mark Poster,2006′ The Good,the Bad and the Virtual’).

Poster explains that Kant believed that individuals (i.e. the bourgeoisie) could choose autonomously how to act and in which the consequences of their acts would in some significant sense not be determined by institutional authorities. As universalisation progresses, so did the universalisation of the ethical domain.

In this context one could suggest that behaviour on the internet would follow what is ethically acceptable, but in view of the break up of boundaries, a fuzziness appears. Do we stick with local rules, do we extend? Comments and discussion on this blog for instance are governed by local activities (University of Edinburgh, UK, Europe……) and extend into our distance learning global geographies.

How do virtual world contexts (for instance Second Life) and the Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) cope, being far more challenging to enforce ethics associated with real world rules. Cultural activities may be considered along a Nietzschean line of thinking, of an ‘alternative world’, a heaven.

Issues surrounding online identity, anonymity, authenticity, interchangeability, increased sub-cultural activity, and mixing time and space are all factors that affect ethical positions.

It also affects the law which cannot always deal with the ‘virtuality’, as compared to the physical. In that sense, Kant’s quote above, is difficult to live up to if you do not know who the online persona is.




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Computer talk

Here are 3 clips that illustrate the idea of language and communication within a cyberspace culture:

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‘She who Measures’

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I came across this animation in the Samsung future shorts series.

Another dystopian vision of pointless consumerism controlled by media.  The main characters have monitors strapped in front of their eyes and are constantly fed images and information. The evil clown (= bad person pretend good) is in charge of a pointless shopping parade, directing the queue going nowhere…. One lonely individual (accidentally?) disconnected from this sinister procession, is slightly erratic and unsure what to do (too much autofeed in the past).   A hole appears in the dark sky which is like a bad membrane, keeping pollution in. The sun peers through and the doomed characters are suffocated in the heat. Do they die?     The Clown seems to have absorbed Armageddon …. the cycle restarts  showing new (?)  characters in their glass wombs – can I dare say this represents education?

The evil clown is ready for a new circus parade  and the next shopping trip. One however escapes…..

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I can feel it

YouTube Preview Image

I was struck by the visual similarities between a picture of Google servers and the (symbolic) spaceship in Stanley Kubrick’s movie.There are a number of ideas emerging from this, all relating to juxtapositions of utopian/distopian.

The (simulated) experience Hal verbalises, is perhaps resonating among these servers, with similar anxieties expressed by Google users. Google is trying to help by directing them to the correct helpline or website. At the same time, engineers push buttons and pull switches to save. Cloud trends verbalised the nation’s mood via social networking.

Machines have no feelings, despite Hal claiming otherwise. In the clip  ‘the computer talks’ and the human is silent, except for the laborious breathing. We know man’s action is to control the machine, humans program (computer language) but there is always a threat of losing that control. After all Dave was programmed too.

Can Google be silenced? How do governments control corporates?

Hal’s  actions were unethical, to destroy. Search engines support a capitalistic drive, in support of consumerism and economic growth. How can we be certain that technological developments will be ‘for the best’…?

2/4/2013, note:  in all this I got Dave and Hal muddled up… for the record: Dave is the person, Hal the computer, now corrected…

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Today in the UK another company went into administration, Blockbusters, the video/game/film rental company. This follows HMV, Jessops and Comet, all within a few weeks. Journalists on the radio were explaining that all these companies were doomed since they did not embrace the online retail model.

It seems to me that commentators focus on the competitive downturn, changed habits of the consumer, new online behaviour that has proliferated in terms of viewing and retail experiences.

Whilst I agree with all these economic observations, one experience that lies at the heart of these companies is the manipulation of the digital image and the speed and ease by which imagery has become available, making their exclusive quality redundant.

To illustrate my point, there is the image above, taken from the BBC website. It took no more than around 3 minutes to caputure and upload. A few years ago, it could have taken a day or so to take photos (not mentioning to have them ‘developed’) or use an illustration, scan or do the repro for the artwork etc.

Generally speaking, we all accept that these images are part of our all day /every day online and offline experiences. We live, indeed are surrounded by these images, beamed across TV monitors, computer screens, digital pads, smartphones. Purchasing these images as part of a potential exclusive experience is no longer the case. Indeed, going by online behaviour our purchasing is linked to a relatively small digital representation (JEPG) of an actual object, and we rather manipulate the electronic image in favour of the  real physical object.

The trouble with HMV and Blockbuster is that they were still banking on an element of exclusivity available from the physicality of the object.  But today, downloading a movie from the internet is no longer associated with that unique setting and watching it on a dedicated home system, in a dedicated space. Indeed, families watch multiple movies, via multiple technologies at the same time, in different rooms.

Digital images are now experienced like a Maelstrom, a whirlpool of visuality, blended and mashed. Their uniqueness lies in there temporarily,  the fleetingness of the moment which can be re-experienced and re-located at any time. Where consumers before paid for that uniqueness of the image, the premium is now associated with the mobility of the online spaces.

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Sassen (1999) quoted in the Bell article explains: ‘powerful corporate actors and high-performance networks are strenghtening the role of private electronic space and altering the structure of public electrnic space.’

I wonder in how far the boundaries between private and public spaces are distinguishable? Even the open tabs on my computer screen are a mash-up, with me switchning between private/public, although the private spaces are mediated via corporate servers (in my case Virgin Media)

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the vastness of Google

The material supporting the immaterial


a few weeks ago during a surf, I noticed one of these images of a google server. Astonishing…the Hypereal estate according to Luke, as mentioned in Bell’s article


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mapping the social networking world


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A story

Today I had a walk to the library. On the way down I noticed this graffiti on the wall of the art college and I took a photo.

Here it is…

The author of this anonymous piece of artwork is not connected to me. Our paths crossed by chance, in an asynchronous mode…  By taking the photo I turned it into an object, a mediated artefact taken out of the physical context, placed into a digital context.

I re-appropriated the image, I now entitle it ‘love sick’, I can make it into a narrative, I made it public.

Now I can start thinking of a story….

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Are you talking to me?

There is some discussion about the visuality of the internet, the liquidity of images etc. Literature points to the development of web 2.0.

Whilst the dynamics of the associated imagery is fast and ever changing, I would suggest that technological advances for adding sound is a fundamental shift, contributing to the depth of cyberspace.

The creation of images is part of a very longstanding human tradition, and the duplication of these images has been an ongoing technical development for a few centuries. Printing, screen printing, photocopying has been around for quite some time, with digital manipulation and printing emerging in the 80s.

Where before images were reasonably mobile, sound was less omnipresent. However, with mobile technology we are surrounded by land and sound scapes. Web developments allow to grab and edit sound and manipulate sounds as if they were visual. The availability of  such combination adds to the enhanced experience.


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Martin Hand suggests ‘flattened  forms’ of cultural production, blurring the differences between cultural production and consumption. He gives the example of You Tube, Wikipedia,Facebook which usher the flattened form of cultural production, the blurring.

I would like to argue that depending on the mode of visualisation, a 3-D representation of the various networks illustrates ‘depth’ and models intensity, illustrating the nodes of communication, interaction. Although I accept that what he refers to possibly is the ‘form’ and not the ‘contents’ of these communications. Still, I am not quite sure how flatness can be associated with for example You Tube which can support many uploads on the same topic (say for instance a band, political views, art,  history)

There is a discussion (led by art critic Clement Greenberg) with regards to abstract art, in relation to figurative art, illustrating flatness


abstract art utilises the flatness of the media,the canvas, as a feature of art, the 2 dimensional plane. In a similar way one can argue this is true for Web-based communications.

The concept of flatness is an intriguing one, part of a tradition of dealing with images and their visual analysis.


source images:


Image 1:

The project was programmed in Java. It can be decomposed in three main parts. The first part is a web crawler (sometimes also called spider or robot) that is used to grab the structure of the web sites. The second part is responsible for the analysis of the log files. The third part, realized with Java3D, controls the 3d visualization.

Image 2:

Webtracer represents this structure as a three dimensional molecular diagram, with pages as nodes(atoms) and links as the strings(atomic forces) that connect those nodes together

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what is digitising actually do???

Martin Hand argues that ‘digitization enables and intensifies processes of circulation, flattening, de -territorialization, and de-differentiation, and for new kinds of objects, subjects and practices to become emergent and convergent in a transition from analogue to digital cultures.’

Whilst I do agree with this statement, photography already supported this. Taking photos and getting these ‘developed’ in a lab and having to wait for the lab to return the prints would obviously not give that instantaneous feedback.

What makes digitisation attractive is the instant gratification, the immediacy both in time and space. Smartphones and other devices streamline our actions and our thoughts into cyberspace. We have a presence that extends beyond our physical boundary.

And Hand continues: ‘The question of speed is thought to be central in altering the objects and conditions of contemporary capitalism producing scenarios of immediacy,24/7 communications and the transformation of culture into indifferent information.’

I am not sure if information can be ‘indifferent’ though…

and further on in the chapter: (p 19) ‘any delay or distance between doing something and thinking about it is lost in the global information culture.’ …’ The end of culture as a representational, super-structural or epiphenonemon’.

not quite sure if I get this at the moment. Seems a contradiction when considering visual complexity modelling.


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The Web has become the definitive new media of late or post-modern culture:a largely disorganised and perpetually reflexive culture of information flows and unruly objects.
Martin Hand (2008)
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I decided to make a one-off payment on a store card I have but hardly use. The hassle of setting up direct debits or going in person to the bank or post office  has been taken out of the daily grind of dealing with this. However, it assumed I am digitally networked and have the competency to deal with this type of activity. It is a simple example of how socioeconomic conditions determine how we deal with these daily tasks. Whilst it saves me time and money (no car journeys, as late a payment as possible, no postage), one could say it is less democratic as not everyone can afford such networked facilities. Ironically it would be less straightforward now to make paper payments. So in that sense, technology cannot always be helpful unless you are equipped to deal with it. It may both enable and disable our outlook.

There were a few more implications: I can save my payment details as an image, not a text-based document. And in order to display it online in this blog, I thought it was best to take out my card details, to stop fraud.

Social inclusion, participation, empowerment, as has been argued, can be achieved through networked technology but without the necessary financial means and skills to use the technologies,one can be left digitally stranded.

But one could argue this is nothing new: when Ford introduced the first Model T motorcar, regarded as the first affordable car, produced on an assembly line, mobility became a force for social change. It comes perhaps as no surprise that language to describe these new development, i.e. the information superhighways, were inspired before by real tarmac, offering people opportunities to engage more quickly with other groups. Financial means to support such activity is crucial.


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