The More Features, The More Users

The mapping occurring within Al Gore’s Digital Earth project in the article by Lisa Parks “Satellite and Cyber Visualities: Analyzing ‘Digital Earth”, is that of space and time. It fuses the ideas of cartography/science and Stephen Mamber’s narrative mapping. Mamber describes narrative mapping as the presentation of events as they unfolded over time.  Parks argues that the fusion of science and this idea of narrative mapping can improve Digital Earth because it would appeal to the masses. Frankly, I agree with Parks. The more features technology offers, it seems, the more people will use it. Evidence for this theory can be found in Simanowski’s article “Digital Art and Meaning: Reading Kinetic Poetry, Text Machines, Mapping Art, and Interactive Installations”. Simanowski talks about the shift digital media has taken from qualitative data information to art. It reminds me of the PC vs. Apple favoritism. Macs have gained the reputation of being the more artistic computer because of their standard features that allow users to take photos, mix music, and cut video. In addition to all of these features that are easy to use, PC functions are possible such as Word Processing. Macs are gaining popularity, and PCs have been trying to offer similar features to keep their products desirable. Tying this example back to Parks’ argument, if Digital Earth targeted culture, as well as the science of Earth, than it will “erode the science/culture divide” (Parks 280). If Digital Earth used narrative mapping, it could become a virtual database of the Earth, fusing representations of historic cultural events and environmental science changes. It could be an interactive digital textbook for the World!

A Facebook Book

Maybe not so ironically enough, I first read about Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too via social media. The book was written on Facebook, and relays an experiment on the construction of identity in a “Facebook-drenched world of self-manufacturing and short attentions spans“; a statement that our class could argue with. The book’s publisher notes that it may be the first published book entirely composed on Facebook.

Viegener wrote an article for The Huffington Post, “How I Wrote A Book On Facebook“, about his process. He claims he didn’t have any intentions on composing any kind of notable literary work when he began posting random things about himself in response to a Facebook chain letter. He notes that he wanted to start his own list of random facts about himself, but randomness is not random if it is focused on, which relates to ideas from Burroughs article about The Cut-Up Method. The idea for a book came symptomatically from the amount of feedback his post got from friends, relatives, and acquaintances. His text unintentionally took on a dialogical form, his Facebook community was actively implying and inferring information. This exchange of information and experience inspired the book. In this way, he uses a version of the cut-up method by choosing which among the comments should be inserted into his story.

In Viegener’s article he includes an excerpt from the book. The text of the book takes the form of numbered lines, clearly meant to count the 2500 random things. Using the background information Viegener provides about his process, it’s possible to see how each number could represent a different person who was participating in his Facebook post. The chosen sentences seem fragmented, yet they have a cognitive flow. I thought Viegener’s process correlates with our class, although the product is a physical book, because he utilized the link between technology and society, as well as the connection of seeing and writing, which we read in Bolter’s article. The flushed left sentences create a lot of space on the page, space that is traditionally used up by paragraphs of text to tell a story. Since the story was formed through conversation on Facebook, the space conveys a metaphorical space between thoughts/perspectives. His work is different from the digital works we’ve been discussing because he doesn’t keep his platform constant with his process, but does that make it lesser? I lean towards yes because if he had chosen to publish this as digital literature, he would have been able to build upon it and make it active, as social media/the Internet is, instead of freezing the story in a physical medium.

The Link between Man and Program

The article “Digital Media Archaeology” by Noah Wardrip-Fruin attempts to dig into the methodology behind early digital literature. I found this sorting out of the intent of operation as a kind of strategy, which could help us better grip the digital artifacts we discover. Wardrip-Fruin’s example of Christopher Strachey’s Love Letter Generator gave me insight to the real humanity that, at first, seems lost behind machines. The background on Strachey and his father introduced tendencies belonging only to humans, that were applied in a digital medium. Though we have been discussing the relationship of content and platform in class, it wasn’t until this article that I connected that content isn’t just lone concepts, but concepts which were formed within the real life of a person. With the growing popularity of technology, and correspondingly digital media, it is easy to separate the media from reality, as many critics do. However, the link between man and program is one in the same; we as humans are temporal and ever-changing, just like the programs we create digitally. This relates with a discussion we had in class about how the codex is so sentimental to us because it is not temporal. It offers us a constant, something that will never change.

This reminded me of the opening statements in John Cayley’s article “Time Code Language: New Media Poetics and Programmed Signification”. Cayley asked the question, “What is the relationship of code and text in cultural objects that are classified as literary and that are explicitly programmed?” Cayley goes further by quoting Rita Raley’s claim that code is implicit, and, I inferred, text explicit. Stimulated by these statements, I thought the relationship of code to text is the same as the relationship between a person’s past and present. Code is embedded, as a person’s past experiences are within the brain. Though memories are implicit, they surface in present decision making without necessarily being explicit; the same as Raley claims of coding. Tying this theory back to Wardrip-Fruin’s article, the archaeology of digital projects is really an investigation of humanity and the strategies encoded both in the brain and on-screen.

Upside-Down Poetry

The digital poem The Future of Publishing, created by the Brits of Dorling Kindersley Books and produced by Khaki Films, literally speaks to the issues of platform within the publishing community. The platform used here is a video which, as a result of its platform, provides audio commentary to the lines of the poem as they glide across the window. Audio commentary is something that the codex is incapable of doing in isolation; you would need another person to read it to you as you followed along to get the same visual and audial experience. Having the commentary also sets a specific tone for the poem as it is read. Since there were no instructions included with the poem, if there had been a lack of commentary, I’m not sure if I would have even known to read the text backwards. It seems only necessary to this digitalized text. The movement of the lines is also symptomatic of its platform. We know that the physicality of the codex cripples its ability to move without our help, whereas the digital poem is capable of moving its own text, thanks to sneaky HTML codes.

Despite the differences in platforms between this digital poem and the codex, the video still contains an element borrowed from the codex. The coloring of the video is made to resemble the traditional white paper and black text found in the codex. Perhaps this is because the mission of the poem is to “reverse how you see me (digital publishing)”. The aim of the poem is to suggest the new promises of publishing. It’s not the end, but merely a platform shift that can contain old elements of structure, as well as new creative options. For example, the significance of the lack of punctuation is vital to the surprise reversal of the poem. The phrases have completely changed, and valid punctuation could not have worked in both readings. In this aspect, digital texts give more liberty than the structures embedded in the traditional codex.

Digital Tools with Utilitarian Ethics

As I read “The Story Digital Tools Tell” by Tarleton Gillespie, my first impression was that Gillespie’s main argument was that technologies are neutral, that they have no agendas. However, as I continued reading it became apparent that he was opposed to this naïve perception of technology. Once he referenced Langdon Winner I made the connection that, although technology is neutral in the sense that it can be used as a tool for both extremes, there is an underlying agenda formulated not by technology, but by the human user. Further, on the issue of intentionality, I don’t see how intent is ever universally read. Almost every piece of literature I’ve had to discuss in my classes has had at least two rational perceptions on implied meaning, or perhaps the intent was accidental. Why should technology be any different?

Gillespie is touching on the topic of technological determinism. Up until today, I was unfamiliar with the term. However, after reading this and another article for my ENGH 319, Cell Phone Cultures class, the term kept coming up. I’ve come to understand it as a basis for society’s social norms and practices deriving from technological advances; as Gillespie states in laments terms “the sense that technology actively intervenes in the world” (111). I concluded from his explanation of this theory that technology is also a utilitarian tool. If technology can be used to regulate ways of life, the mastermind behind the regulation is hoping to gain something out of it; as Gillespie states, “no innovation… would make any difference whatsoever if they did not help to muster, align, and win over new and unexpected allies” (111). Utilitarianism acts in favor of one’s self-interest and how he or she will benefit in a scenario. This ethical theory is made prominent with technologies if we use Gillespie’s advice in reading into “the stories digital tools tell.” For example, take the tool the classic iPod. A story I read into for the iPod is that music should be easily accessible and, therefore, easy to change. The iPod changed how music is played, from a composed selection (album or playlist) to a database (shuffle). This bridges the gap between platform and intent.