Category Archives: #newaesthetic

The Post-Digital

Courbet, Gustave-The Painter’s Studio; A Real Allegory (1855)

As we increasingly find that the world of computational abundance is normalised, the application of cheap digital technologies to manage or partially augmented traditionally analogue experiences, technologies and practices will doubtless grow.[1] That is, the power of “compute” is growing both in breadth and depth as it permeates society and culture (see Davies 2013; Berry 2014a). All around us we are increasingly surrounded by new fields and flows of computation that co-construct and stabilise a new artifice for the human sensorium – streams, clouds, sensors and infrastructures. Not unlike previous moments in which mediums become part of everyday life, this new field is noticeable for its ability to modulate and transform itself through the use of algorithms and code. Not just as a general plasticity but as a flexible structure that adapts to context and environment tailored to the individual, or perhaps better, dividual, of the computational age. This new field of computation is not necessarily top-down and corporate controlled either. Thus, we see at a bottom-up level, the emergence of a market in cheap digital processors that enable the implementation of innovative new forms of culture and cultural experimentation. We might think of these moments as part of the constellation I am calling the “post-digital” (see also Berry 2013a; Cramer 2013; Cox 2013; Philipsen 2013; Sable 2012).

Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), 1968.
Designed by Lina Bo Bardi

Thus, the historical distinction between the digital and the non-digital becomes increasingly blurred, to the extent that to talk about the digital presupposes a disjuncture in our experience that makes less and less sense. Thus computation becomes spatial in its implementation, embedded within the environment and part of the texture of life itself which can be walked around, touched, manipulated and interacted with in a number of ways and means – life becomes mediated in and through the computal (Berry 2014b). Indeed, in a similar way in which the distinction between “being online” or “being offline” has become anachronistic, with our always-on smart phones and tablets and widespread wireless networking technologies, so too, perhaps, the term “digital” describes a world of the past.

Which is not to say that time is not an important aspect to computation in this post-digital world. The compressive effects of computation and the flattening metaphors and visual language of computation tend towards an encounter, maximised perhaps by its tendency toward spatiality, to transform time from a diachronic to a synchronic experience. Indeed, history itself may be re-presented through the screen through a number of computation functions and methods that make it seem geometric, flat and simultaneous. A sense of history is then a sense of real-time flows, not so much distant and elusive, whether as cultural or individual memory, but here and now, spectacular and vividly represented and re-presented. Time in this sense is the time of technical time, and the history attendant to it is technical history, presented through databases, code and algorithms.

Thus within a time of computational abundance we might think in relation to the question of the “post-digital”, in as much as we are rapidly entering a moment when the difficulty will be found in encountering culture outside of digital media. Or perhaps the non-digital will largely be the preserve of the elite (by choice, education and wealth) or the very poor (by necessity).  The detritus of society will be cast into the non-digital and the fading and ephemeral will be preserved within computational databanks only, if it is preserved at all. Indeed, even the non-digital becomes bound up in the preservation possibilities offered by the digital,

Non-digital media technologies… become post-digital when they are not simply nostalgically revived, but functionally repurposed in (often critical) relation to digital media technologies: zines that become anti- or non-blogs, vinyl as anti-CD, cassette tapes as anti-mp3, analog film as anti-video (Cramer 2013).

Computal Surfaces: main stage for the
Republican convention in Tampa, Fla (2012)

In a post-digital age, whether something is digital or not will no longer be seen as the essential question. Or rather, the question as to whether something is or is not “digital” will be increasingly meaningless as all forms of media become themselves mediated, produced, accessed, distributed or consumed through digital devices and technologies. This is, to move away from a comparative notion of the digital, contrasted with other material forms such as paper, celluloid or photopaper, and instead begin to think about how the digital is modulated within various materialities. It is also when the contrast between “digital” and “analogue” no longer makes sense either. This spectrum of the digital, a distribution across an axis of more of less computal, gives rise to the expectation of the always already computational of everyday life.

Muffwiggler, Modular Synth Meetup,
University of Sussex (2013).

Thus, the post-digital is represented by and indicative of a moment when the computational has become both hegemonic and post-screenic (see Bosma 2013; Ludovico 2013). As Cramer argues, “the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media collapses in theory as well as in practice. As Kenneth Goldsmith observes, his students ‘mix oil paint while Photoshopping and scour flea markets'” (Cramer 2013). The “digital” is then understood as a previous historic moment when computation as digitality was understood in opposition to the analogue, although that is not to say that it will not remain as a marginal notion with related practices within post-digitality. Thus, under our contemporary conditions it might be better to think about modulations of the digital or different intensities of the computational as a post-digital moment rather than digital versus analogue as such. We should therefore critically think about the way in which cadences of the computational are made and materialised. In other words, notions of quantitative and qualitative dimensions of “compute” will be increasingly important for thinking about culture, economics, society, politics and everyday life. Tracing power will in many cases be tracing compute, both in terms of the reservoirs of compute managed by gigantic computational Stacks, but also in the places where compute is thin and poorly served. By Stacks, I am referring to the corporations that increasingly rely on computational “technology stacks” for profit and power, such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon but also the technical imaginary formed through the notion of these stacks as a diagram (Berry 2013b).

Cuddlebot“: low-tech touch/haptic sensing hardware (2013)

Compute as already always part of life might also herald that the moment of the digital as digitalisation is already the past, and that new challenges lie ahead for thinking about the way in which the computal saturates our culture, institutions and everyday life in varying degrees of modularity and intensity. This growth in computation has put citizens at an obvious disadvantage in a society that not only has historically tended to disavow the digital as a form of knowledge or practice, but also has not seen computational thinking or skills as part of the educational requirements of a well-informed citizen. For example, the lack of understanding of the importance of encryption and cryptography in digital society was humbly described recently by Glenn Greenwald, who one might have thought to have been better schooled in these technologies (Greenwald 2013). Indeed, as computer power has increased, so has the tendency to emulate older media forms to provide content within simulations of traditional containers, such as “e”-books, through techniques of skeuomorphism and glossy algorithmic interface design – rather than learning and teaching computational practices as such. This, perhaps, has the advantage of new computational forms being able to be used and accessed without the requisite computational skills to negotiate the new literary machines of computation, such as the underlying logics, structures, processes and code. However, it also means that in many cases today, we are unable to read what we write, and are not always the writers of the systems that are built around us (Berry 2011; Oliver, Savičić and Vasiliev 2011; Allen 2013). This illiteracy does not seem to be the ideal conditions for the emergence of an informed and educated citizenry to engage with the challenges and dangers of a fully softwarized post-digital society. It also points to the urgent need for a critical and engaged Bildung for the post-digital world, if it is not to become precariously post-democratic.


Notes

[1] This post was inspired by attending “Muffwiggler” at the University of Sussex, Saturday 16 November 2013, organised by Andrew Duff, and funded by the Centre for Digital Material Culture. The event was notionally a homage to analogue synths, but in reality was colonised by digital/analogue hybrid synthesisers and controllers which were properly post-digital in both form and function. More information http://www.muffwiggler.com and http://www.flickr.com/photos/du_ff/sets/72157632801557258/

Bibliography

Allen, J. (2013) Critical Infrastructure, accessed 31/12/2013, http://post-digital.projects.cavi.dk/?p=356

Berry, D. M. (2011) The Philosophy of Software, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Berry, D. M. (2013a) Post-Digital Humanities, Stunlaw, accessed 30/12/2013,  http://stunlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/post-digital-humanities.html

Berry, D. M. (2013b) Digital Breadcrumbs, Stunlaw, accessed 30/12/2013, http://stunlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/digital-breadcrumbs.html

Berry, D. M. (2014a) On Compute, Stunlaw, accessed 05/01/2014, http://stunlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/on-compute.html

Berry, D. M. (2014b) Critical Theory and the Digital, New York, Continuum/Bloomsbury Academic.

Bosmas, J. (2013) Post-Digital is Post-Screen – Shaping a New Visuality, accessed 30/12/2013, http://post-digital.projects.cavi.dk/?p=580

Cox, G. (2013) some old problems with post–anything (draft version), accessed 30/12/2013, http://post-digital.projects.cavi.dk/?p=230

Cramer, F. (2013) Post-digital: a term that sucks but is useful (draft 2), accessed 30/12/2013, http://post-digital.projects.cavi.dk/?p=295

Davies, J. (2013) Compute Power with Energy- Efficiency, accessed 30/12/2013, http://developer.amd.com/wordpress/media/2013/06/Compute_Power_with_Energy-Efficiency_Jem_AMD_v1.1.pdf

Greenwald, G. (2013) 30c3 Keynote, Chaos Computer Club, accessed 30/12/2013,  http://media.ccc.de/browse/congress/2013/30C3_-_5622_-_en_-_saal_1_-_201312271930_-_30c3_keynote_-_glenn_greenwald_-_frank.html

Ludovico, A. (2013) Post Digital Publishing, Hybrid and Processual Objects in Print, accessed 30/12/2013, http://post-digital.projects.cavi.dk/?p=323

Oliver, J. Savičić, G. and Vasiliev, D. (2011) Critical Engineering Manifesto, accessed 31/12/2013, http://criticalengineering.org

Philipsen, L. (2013) Do not Return to Sender – Why post-digital aesthetic research should actually distinguish between artist, critics, and audience, accessed 30/12/2013, http://post-digital.projects.cavi.dk/?p=350

Sable, D. (2012) A “Post Digital” World, Really?, Google Think Insights, accessed 30/12/2013, http://www.google.com/think/articles/a-post-digital-world-really.html

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Signposts for the Future of Computal Media

I would like to begin to outline what I think are some of the important trajectories to keep an eye on in regard to what I increasingly think of as computal media. That is, the broad area dependent on computational processing technologies, or areas soon to be colonised by such technologies.

In order to do this I want to examine a number of key moments that I want to use to structure thinking about the softwarization of media.  By “softwarization”, I means broadly the notion of Andreessen (2011) that “software is eating the world” (see also Berry 2011; Manovich 2013).  Softwarization is then a process of the application of computation (see Schlueter Langdon 2003), in this case, to all forms of historical media, but also in the generation of born-digital media. 
However, this process of softwarization is tentative, multi-directional, contested, and moving on multiple strata at different modularities and speeds. We therefore need to develop critiques of the concepts that drive these processes of softwarization but also to think about what kind of experiences that make the epistemological categories of the computal possible. For example, one feature that distinguishes the computal is its division into surfaces, rough or pleasant, and concealed inaccessible structures. 
It seems to me that this task is rightly one that is a critical undertaking. That is, as an historical materialism that understands the key organising principles of our experience are produced by ideas developed with the array of social forces that human beings have themselves created. This includes understanding the computal subject as an agent dynamically contributing and responding to the world. 
So I want to now look at a number of moments to draw out some of what I think are the key developments to be attentive to in computal media. That is, not the future of new media as such, but rather “possibilities” within computal media, sometimes latent but also apparent. 
The Industrial Internet
A new paradigm called the “industrial internet” is emerging, a computational, real-time streaming ecology that is reconfigured in terms of digital flows, fluidities and movement. In the new industrial internet the paradigmatic metaphor I want to use is real-time streaming technologies and the data flows, processual stream-based engines and the computal interfaces and computal “glue” holding them together. This is the internet of things and the softwarization of everyday life and represents the beginning of a post-digital experience of computation as such.
This calls for us to stop thinking about the digital as something static, discrete and object-like and instead consider ‘trajectories’ and computational logistics. In hindsight, for example, it is possible to see that new media such as CDs and DVDs were only ever the first step on the road to a truly computational media world. Capturing bits and disconnecting them from wider networks, placing them on plastic discs and stacking them in shops for us to go visit and buy seems bizarrely pedestrian today. 
Taking account of such media and related cultural practices becomes increasing algorithmic and as such media becomes itself mediated via software. At the same time previous media forms are increasingly digitalised and placed in databases, viewed not on original equipment but accessed through software devices, browsers and apps. As all media becomes algorithmic, it is subject to monitoring and control at a level to which we are not accustomed – e.g. Amazon mass deletion of Orwell’s1984 from personal Kindles in 2009 (Stone 2009).

The imminent rolling out of the sensor-based world of the internet of things is underway with companies such as Broadcom developing Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices, “WICED Direct will allow OEMs to develop wearable sensors — pedometers, heart-rate monitors, keycards — and clothing that transmit everyday data to the cloud via a connected smartphone or tablet” (Seppala 2013). Additionally Apple is developing new technology in this area with its iBeacon software layer which uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to create location-aware micro-devices, and “can enable a mobile user to navigate and interact with specific regions geofenced by low cost signal emitters that can be placed anywhere, including indoors, and even on moving targets” (Dilger 2013). In fact, the “dual nature of the iBeacons is really interesting as well. We can receive content from the beacons, but we can be them as well” (Kosner 2013).  This relies on Bluetooth version 4.0, also called “Bluetooth Smart”, that supports devices that can be powered for many months by a small button battery, and in some cases for years. Indeed,

BLE is especially useful in places (like inside a shopping mall) where GPS location data my not be reliably available. The sensitivity is also greater than either GPS or WiFi triangulation. BLE allows for interactions as far away as 160 feet, but doesn’t require surface contact (Kosner 2013).

These new computational sensors enable Local Positioning Systems (LPS) or micro-location, in contrast to the less precise technology of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). These “location based applications can enable personal navigation and the tracking or positioning of assets” to the centimetre, rather than the metre, and hence have great potential as tracking systems inside buildings and facilities (Feldman 2009).

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
This shift also includes the move from relatively static desktop computers to mobile computers and to tablet based devices – consumerisation of tech. Indeed, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU 2012: 1), in 2012 there were 6 billion mobile devices (up from 2.7 billion in 2006), with YouTube alone streaming video media of 200 terrabytes per day. Indeed, by the end of 2011, 2.3 billion people (i.e. one in three) were using the Internet (ITU 2012: 3).
Users are creating 1.8 zettabytes of data annually by 2011 and this is expected to grow to 7.9 zettabytes by 2015 (Kalakota 2011). To put this in perspective, a zettabyte is is equal to 1 billion terabytes – clearly at these scales the storage sizes become increasingly difficult for humans to comprehend. A zettabyte is roughly equal in size to twenty-five billion Blu-ray discs or 250 billion DVDs.

The acceptance by users and providers of the consumerisation of technology has also opened up the space for the development of “wearables” and these highly intimate devices are under current development, with the most prominent example being Google Glass. Often low-power devices, making use of the BLE and iBeacon type technologies, they augment our existing devices, such as the mobile phone, rather than outright replacing them, but offer new functionalities, such as fitness monitors, notification interfaces, contextual systems and so forth. 

The Personal Cloud (PC)
These pressures are creating an explosion in data and a corresponding expansion in various forms of digital media (currently uploaded to corporate clouds). As a counter move to the existence of massive centralised corporate systems there is a call for Personal Cloud (PCs), a decentralisation of data from the big cloud providers (Facebook, Google, etc.) into smaller personal spaces (see Personal Cloud 2013). Conceptually this is interesting in relation to BYOD. 
This of course changes our relationship to knowledge, and the forms of knowledge which we keep and are able to use. Archives are increasingly viewed through the lens of computation, both in terms of cataloging and storage but also in terms of remediation and configuration. Practices around these knowledges are also shifting, and as social media demonstrates, new forms of sharing and interaction are made possible. Personal Cloud also has links to decentralised authentication technologies (e.g. DAuth vs OAuth).
Digital Media, Social Reading, Sprints
It has taken digital a lot longer that many had thought to provide a serious challenge to print, but it seems to me that we are now in a new moment in which digital texts enable screen-reading, if it is not an anachronism to still call it that, as a sustained reading practice. The are lots of experiments in this space, e.g. my notion of the “minigraph” (Berry 2013) or the mini-monograph, technical reports, the “multigraph” (McCormick 2013), pamphlets, and so forth. Also new means for writing (e.g. Quip) and social reading and collaborative writing (e.g. Book Sprints)
DIY Encryption and Cypherpunks
Together, these technologies create contours of a new communicational landscape appearing before us, and into which computational media mediates use and interaction. Phones become smart phones and media devices that can identify, monitor and control our actions and behaviour  through anticipatory computing. Whilst seemingly freeing us, we are also increasingly enclosed within an algorithmic cage that attempts to surround us with contextual advertising and behavioural nudges.
One response could be “Critical Encryption Practices”, the dual moment of a form of computal literacy and understanding of encryption technologies and cryptography combined with critical reflexive approaches. Cypherpunk approaches tend towards an individualistic libertarianism, but there remains a critical reflexive space opened up by their practices. Commentators are often dismissive of encryption as a “mere” technical solution to what is also a political problem of widespread surveillance. 
CV Dazzle Make-up, Adam Harvey
However, Critical encryption practices could provide both the political, technical and educative moments required for the kinds of media literacies important today – e.g. in civil society. 
This includes critical treatment of and reflection on crypto-systems such as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and the kinds of cybernetic imaginaries that often accompany them. Critical encryption practices could also develop signaling systems – e.g. new aesthetic and Adam Harvey’s work. 
Augmediated Reality
The idea of supplementing or augmenting reality is being transformed with the notion of “augmediated” technologies (Mann 2001). These are technologies that offer a radical mediation of everyday life via screenic forms (such as “Glass”) to co-construct a computally generated synoptic meta-reality formed of video feeds, augmented technology and real-time streams and notification. Intel’s work of Perceptual Computing is a useful example of this kind of media form. 
The New Aesthetic
These factors raise issues of new aesthetic forms related to the computal. For example, augmediated aesthetics suggests new forms of experience in relation to its aesthetic mediation (Berry et al 2012). The continuing “glitch” digital aesthetic remains interesting in relation to the new aesthetic and aesthetic practice more generally (see Briz 2013). Indeed, the aesthetics of encryption, e.g. “complex monochromatic encryption patterns,” the mediation of encryption etc. offers new ways of thinking about the aesthetic in relation to digital media more generally and the post-digital (see Berry et al 2013)
Bumblehive and Veillance
Within a security setting one of the key aspects is data collection and it comes as no surprise that the US has been at the forefront of rolling out gigantic data archive systems, with the NSA (National Security Agency) building the country’s biggest spy centre at its Utah Data Center (Bamford 2012) – codenamed Bumblehive. This centre has a “capacity that will soon have to be measured in yottabytes, which is 1 trillion terabytes or a quadrillion gigabytes” (Poitras et al 2013). 
This is connected to the notion of the comprehensive collection of data because, “if you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack,” according to Jeremy Bash, the former CIA chief of staff. The scale of the data collection is staggering and according to Davies (2013) the UK GCHQ has placed, “more than 200 probes on transatlantic cables and is processing 600m ‘telephone events’ a day as well as up to 39m gigabytes of internet traffic. Veillance – both surveillance and sousveillence are made easier with mobile devices and cloud computing. We face rising challenges for responding to these issues. 
The Internet vs The Stacks
The internet as we tend to think of it has become increasingly colonised by massive corporate technology stacks. These companies, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, are called collectively “The Stacks” (Sterling, quoted in Emami 2012) – vertically integrated giant social media corporations. As Sterling observes,

[There’s] a new phenomena that I like to call the Stacks [vertically integrated social media]. And we’ve got five of them — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. The future of the stacks is basically to take over the internet and render it irrelevant. They’re not hostile to the internet — they’re just [looking after] their own situation. And they all think they’ll be the one Stack… and render the others irrelevant… They’re annihilating other media… The Lords of the Stacks (Sterling, quoted in Emami 2012).

The Stacks also raise the issue of resistance and what we might call counter-stacks,  hacking the stacks, and movements like Indieweb and Personal Cloud computing are interesting responses to them and Sterling optimistically thinks, “they’ll all be rendered irrelevant. That’s the future of the Stacks” (Sterling, quoted in Emami 2012). 
The Indieweb
The Indieweb is a kind of DIY response to the Stacks and an attempt to wrestle back some control back from these corporate giants (Finley 2013). These Indieweb developers offer an interesting perspective on what is at stake in the current digital landscape, somewhat idealistic and technically oriented they nonetheless offer a site of critique. They are also notable for “building things”, often small scale, micro-format type things, decentralised and open source/free software in orientation. The indieweb is, then, “an effort to create a web that’s not so dependent on tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and, yes, Google — a web that belongs not to one individual or one company, but to everyone” (Finley 2013).
Push Notification
This surface, or interactional layer, of the digital is hugely important for providing the foundations through which we interact with digital media (Berry 2011). Under development are new high-speed adaptive algorithmic interfaces (algorithmic GUIs) that can offer contextual information, and even reshape the entire interface itself, through the monitoring of our reactions to computational interfaces and feedback and sensor information from the computational device itself – e.g. Google Now. 
The Notification Layer
One of the key sites for reconciliation of the complexity of real-time streaming computing is the notification layer, which will increasingly by an application programming interface (API) and function much like a platform. This is very much the battle taking place between the “Stacks”, e.g. Google Now, Siri, Facebook Home, Microsoft “tiles”, etc. With the political economy of advertising being transformed with the move from web to mobile, notification layers threaten revenue streams. 
It is also a battle over subjectivity and the kind of subject constructed in these notification systems.
Real-time Data vs Big Data
We have been hearing a lot about “big data” and related data visualisation, methods, and so forth. Big data (exemplified by the NSA Prism programme) is largely a historical batch computing system. A much more difficult challenge is real-time stream processing, e.g. future NSA programmes called SHELLTRUMPET, MOONLIGHTPATH, SPINNERET and GCHQ Tempora programme. 
That is, monitoring in real-time, and being able to computationally spot patterns, undertake stream processing, etc.
Contextual Computing
With multiple sensors built into new mobile devices (e.g. camera, microphones, GPS, compass, gyroscopes, radios, etc.) new forms of real-time processing and aggregation become possible.  In some senses then this algorithmic process is the real-time construction of a person’s possible “futures” or their “futurity”, the idea, even, that eventually the curation systems will know “you” better than you know yourself – interesting for notions of ethics/ethos. This the computational real-time imaginary envisaged by corporations, like Google, that want to tell you what you should be doing next…
Anticipatory Computing
Our phones are now smart phones, and as such become media devices that can also be used to identify, monitor and control our actions and behavior  through anticipatory computing. Elements of subjectivity, judgment and cognitive capacities are increasingly delegated to algorithms and prescribed to us through our devices, and there is clearly the danger of a lack of critical reflexivity or even critical thought in this new subject. This new paradigm of anticipatory computing stresses the importance of connecting up multiple technologies to enable a new kind of intelligence within these technical devices. 
Towards a Critical Response to the Post-Digital
Computation in a post-digital age is fundamentally changing the way in which knowledge is created, used, shared and understood, and in doing so changing the relationship between knowledge and freedom. Indeed, following Foucault (1982) the “task of philosophy as a critical analysis of our world is something which is more and more important. Maybe the most certain of all philosophical problems is the problem of the present time, and of what we are, in this very moment… maybe to refuse what we are” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982: 216). 
One way of doing this is to think about Critical Encryption Practices, for example, and the way in which technical decisions (e.g. plaintext defaults on email) are made for us. The critique of knowledge also calls for us to question the coding of instrumentalised reason into the computal. This calls for a critique of computational knowledge and as such a critique of the society producing that knowledge. 
Bibliography
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Bamford, J. (2012) The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say), Wired, accessed 19/03/2012, http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1
Berry, D. M. (2011) The Philosophy of Software: Code and Mediation in the Digital Age, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Berry, D. M. (2013) The Minigraph: The Future of the Monograph?, Stunlaw, accessed 29/08/2013, http://stunlaw.blogspot.nl/2013/08/the-minigraph-future-of-monograph.html
Berry, D. M., Dartel, M. v., Dieter, M., Kasprzak, M. Muller, N., O’Reilly, R., and Vicente, J. L (2012) New Aesthetic, New Anxieties, Amsterdam: V2 Press.
Berry, D. M., Dieter, M., Gottlieb, B., and Voropai, L. (2013) Imaginary Museums, Computationality & the New Aesthetic, BWPWAP, Berlin: Transmediale.
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Dilger, D.E. (2013) Inside iOS 7: iBeacons enhance apps’ location awareness via Bluetooth LE,
AppleInsider, accessed 02/09/2013, http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/06/19/inside-ios-7-ibeacons-enhance-apps-location-awareness-via-bluetooth-le

Emami, G (2012) Bruce Sterling At SXSW 2012: The Best Quotes, The Huffington Post, accessed 29/08/2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/13/bruce-sterling-sxsw-2012_n_1343353.html
Feldman, S. (2009) Micro-Location Overview: Beyond the Metre…to the Centimetre, Sensors and Systems, accessed 02/09/2013, http://sensorsandsystems.com/article/columns/6526-micro-location-overview-beyond-the-metreto-the-centimetre.html

Finley, K. (2013) Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet, Wiredhttp://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/08/indie-web/
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Kalakota, R. (2011) Big Data Infographic and Gartner 2012 Top 10 Strategic Tech Trends, accessed 05/05/2012, http://practicalanalytics.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/big-data-infographic-and-gartner-2012-top-10-strategic-tech-trends

Kosner, A. W. (2013) Why Micro-Location iBeacons May Be Apple’s Biggest New Feature For iOS 7, Forbes, accessed 02/09/2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/anthonykosner/2013/08/29/why-micro-location-ibeacons-may-be-apples-biggest-new-feature-for-ios-7/

Mann, S. (2001) Digital Destiny and Human Possibility in the Age of the Wearable Computer, London: Random House.


Manovich, L. (2013) Software Takes Command, MIT Press.
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Schlueter Langdon, C. 2003. Does IT Matter? An HBR Debate–Letter from Chris Schlueter Langdon. Harvard Business Review (June): 16, accessed 26/08/2013, http://www.ebizstrategy.org/research/HBRLetter/HBRletter.htm and http://www.simoes.com.br/mba/material/ebusiness/ITDOESNTMATTER.pdf
Seppala, T. J. (2013) Broadcom adds WiFi Direct to its embedded device platform, furthers our internet-of-things future, Engadget, accessed 02/09/2013, http://www.engadget.com/2013/08/27/broadcom-wiced-direct/

Stone, B. (2009) Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle, The New York Times, accessed 29/08/2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/technology/companies/18amazon.html?_r=0

Setup Seminar: Understanding The New Aesthetic

A very enjoyable evening was spent at Setup, Utrecht, discussing the New Aesthetic with presentations by myself, Darko Fritz and Frank Kloos, organised by Daniëlle de Jonge. The discussion was opened up by Tijmen Schep who gave an interesting introduction to the main contours of the new aesthetic and explained why Setup had organised the evening lectures.

Darko Fritz tried to unpick the the claims of the new aesthetic to being either “new” or an “aesthetic” placing computer art and new media art within an art historical context. Frank Kloos gave a wonderful presentation with examples of the new aesthetic from a variety of different contexts, including datamoshing and recent use of the new aesthetic in music videos.

Overall the event was a great success with a really excellent audience composed on interesting people, experts and artists, and surprisingly the discussion around computation and the extent to which it has become part of everyday life was extremely vibrant and full of great contributions.

My earlier post on the New Aesthetic here.

Some pictures below.

Darko Fritz
Frank Kloos

Compos 68 in the audience.

Daniëlle de Jonge
Tijmen Schep

Against Remediation

A new aesthetic through Google Maps

In contemporary life, the social is a site for a particular form of technological focus and intensification. Traditional social experience has, of course, taken part in various forms of technical mediation, formatting and subject to control technologies. Think, for example, of the way in which the telephone structured the conversation, diminishing the value of proximity, whilst simultaneously intensifying certain kinds of bodily response and language use. It is important, then to trace media genealogies carefully and to be aware of the previous ways in which the technological and social have met – and this includes the missteps, mistakes, dead-ends, and dead media. This understanding of media, however, has increasingly been understood in terms of the notion of remediation, which has been thought to helpfully contribute to our thought about media change, whilst sustaining a notion of medium specificity. Bolter and Grusin (2000), who coined its contemporary usage, state,

[W]e call the representation of one medium in another remediation, and we will argue that remediation is a defining characteristic of the new digital media. What might seem at first to be an esoteric practice is so widespread that we can identify a spectrum of different ways in which digital media remediate their predecessors, a spectrum depending on the degree of perceived competition or rivalry between the new media and the old (Bolter and Grusin 2000: 45).

However, it seems to me that we now need to move beyond talk of the remediation of previous modes of technological experience and media, particularly when we attempt to understand computational media. I think that this is important for a number of reasons, both theoretical and empirical. Firstly, in a theoretical vein, the concept of remediation has become a hegemonic concept and as such has lost its theoretical force and value. Remediation traces its intuition from McLuhan’s notion that the content of a new media is an old media – McLuhan actually thought of “retrieval” as a “law” of media. But it seems to me that beyond a fairly banal point, this move has the effect of both desensitising us to the specificity and materiality of a “new” media, and more problematically, resurrecting a form of media hauntology, in as much as the old media concepts “possess” the new media form. Whilst it might have held some truth for the old “new” media, although even here I am somewhat sceptical, within the context of digital, and more particularly computational media, I think the notion is increasingly unhelpful. Secondly, remediation gestures toward a depth model of media forms, within which it encourages a kind of originary media, origo, to be postulated, or even to remain latent as an a priori. This enables a form of reading of the computational which justifies a disavowal of the digital, through a double movement of simultaneously exclaiming the newness of computational media, whilst hypostatizing a previous media form “within” the computational.

Thirdly, I do not believe that it accurately describe the empirical situation of computational media, and in fact obfuscates the specificity of the computational in relation to its structure and form. This has a secondary effect in as much as analysis of computational media is viewed through a lens, or method, that is legitimated through this prior claim to remediation. Fourthly, I think remediation draws its force through a reliance on an occularity, that is, remediation is implicitly visual in its conceptualisation of media forms, and the way in which one media contains another, relies on a deeply visual metaphor. This is significant in relation to the hegemony of the visual form of media in the twentieth century. Lastly, and for this reason, I think it is time for us to historicize the concept of remediation. Indeed remediation seems to me to be a concept appropriate to the technologies of media of the twentieth century, and shaped by the historical context of thinking about media in relation to the materialities of those prior media forms and the constellation of concepts which appeared appropriate to them. We need to think computational media in terms which de-emphasize, or certainly reduce the background assumptions to remediation as something akin to a looking glass, and think in terms of a medium as an agency or means of doing something – this means thinking beyond the screenic.

So in this paper, in contrast to talk about “remediation”, and in the context of computational media, I want to think about de-mediation, that is, when a media form is no longer dominant, becoming marginal, and later absorbed/reconstructed in a new medium which en-mediates it. By en-mediate I want to draw attention to the securing of the boundaries related to a format, that is a representation, or mimesis of a previous media – but it is not the “same”, nor is it “contained” in the new media. This distinction is important as at the moment of enmediation, computational categories and techniques transform the newly enmediated form – I am thinking here, for example, of the examples given by the new aesthetic and related computational aesthetics. By enmediate I want to draw links with Heidegger’s notion of enframing (Gestell) and the structuring providing by a condition of possibility, that is a historical constellation of concepts.  I also want to highlight the processual computational nature of en-mediation, in other words, enmediation requires constant work to stabilize the enmediated media. In this sense, computational media is deeply related to enmediation as a total process of mediation through digital technologies. One way of thinking about enmediation is to understand it as gesturing towards a notion of a paradigmatic shift in the way in which “to mediate” should be understood, and which does not relate to the “passing through”, or “informational transfer” as such, but rather enmediate, in this discussion, aims to enumerate and uncover the specificity of computational mediation as mechanic processing.

I therefore want to move quickly to thinking about what it means to enmediate the social. By the term “social” I am particularly thinking in terms of the meditational foundations for sociality that were made available in twentieth century media, and which when enmediated become something new. So sociality is not remediated, it is enmediated – that is the computational mediation of society is not the same as the mediation processes of broadcast media, rather it has a specificity that is occluded if we rely on the concept of remediation to understand it. Thus, it is not an originary form of sociality that is somehow encoded within media (or even constructed/co-constructed), and which is re-presented in the multiple remediations that have occurred historically. Rather it is the enmediation of specific forms of sociality, which in the process of enmediation are themselves transformed, constructed and made possible in a number of different and historically specific modes of existence.

Bibliography
Bolter, J. D. and Grusin, R. (2000) Remediation: Understanding New Media, MIT Press.

The New Aesthetic: A Maieutic of Computationality

Screen testing at main stage for the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla (2012)

Many hasty claims are now being made that the new aesthetic is over, finished, or defunct. I think that as with many of these things we will have to wait and see to the extent to which the new aesthetic is “new”, an “aesthetic”, used in practice, or has any trajectory associated with it. For me, the responses it generates are as interesting as the concept of the new aesthetic itself.

And regarding the “remembering” (perhaps, territorialization) of new media and previous practices, let’s not forget that forgetting things (deteritorialization) can be extremely productive, both theoretically and in everyday practice (as elpis, perhaps, if not as entelechy of new generations). Indeed, forgetting can be like forgiving,[1] and in this sense can allow the absorption or remediation of previous forms (a past bequeathed by the dead) that may have been contradictory or conflictual to be transcended at a higher level (this may also happen through a dialectical move, of course).[2] This is, then, a politics of memory as well as an aesthetic.

But the claim that “NA is that it seems to be all gesture and no ideology” is clearly mistaken. Yes, NA is clearly profoundly gestural and is focused on the practice of doing, in some sense, even if the doing is merely curatorial or collecting other things (as archive/database of the present). The doing is also post-human in that algorithms and their delegated responsibility and control appears to be a returning theme (as the programming industry, as logics of military colonisation of everyday life, as technical mediation, as speed constitutive of absolute past, or as reconstitution of knowledge itself). It is also ideological to the extent that is an attempt to further develop a post-human aesthetic (and of course, inevitably this will/may/should end in failure) but nonetheless reflects in interesting ways a process of cashing out the computational in the realm of the aesthetic – in some senses a maieutic of computational memory, seeing and doing (a “remembering” of glitch ontology or computationality).

As to the charge of the inevitability of historicism to counter the claims of the new aesthetic, one might wish to consider the extent to which the building of the new aesthetic may share the values of computer science (highly ideological, I might add) and which is also profoundly ahistorical and which enables the delegation of the autonomy of the new aesthetic (as code/software) as a computational sphere. But this is not to deny the importance of critical theory here, far from it, but rather it is to raise a question about computation’s immunity to the claims that critical approaches inevitably make – as Ian Bogost recently declared (about a different subject), are these not just “self-described radical leftist academics” and their “predictable critiques”. Could not the new aesthetics form an alliance here with object-oriented ontology?

Within this assemblage, the industrialisation of programming and memory becomes linked to the industrialisation of “seeing” (and here I am thinking of mediatic industries). What I am trying to gesture towards, if only tentatively, is that if the new aesthetic, as an aesthetic of the radically autonomous claims of a highly computational post-digital society, might format the world in ways which profoundly determine, if not offer concrete tendencies, towards an aesthetic which is immune to historicism – in other words the algorithms aren’t listening to the humanists – do we need to follow Stephen Ramsay’s call for Humanists to build?

Here I point to both the industrialisation of memory but also the drive towards a permanent revolution in all forms of knowledge that the computational industries ceaselessly aim towards. That is, the new aesthetic may be a reflexive sighting (the image, the imaginary, the imagined?) and acknowledgement of the mass-produced temporal objects of the programming industries, in as much as they are shared structures, forms, and means, that is, algorithms and codes, that construct new forms of reception in terms that consciousness and collective unconsciousness will increasingly correspond.

Notes

[1] “Forgiving is the only reaction which does not merely re-act but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it and therefore freeing from its consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven” (Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, page 241), “and if he trespass against thee… and… turn against to thee, saying, I changed my mind; thou shalt release him” (Luke 17: 3-4)
[1] Here I am thinking in terms of Mannheim’s concept of “Generation Entelechy” and “Generation Unit” to consider the ways in which the quicker the tempo of social cultural change, here understood as represented through digital technology, the greater the chances that a particular generation location’s group will react to changed circumstances by producing their own entelechy. 

New Aesthetic Argumentum Ad Hominem

Papercraft Self Portrait – 2009 (Testroete)

One of the most frustrating contemporary ways to attack any new idea, practice or moment is to label it as “buzz-worthy” or an “internet meme”. The weakness of this attack should be obvious, but strangely it has become a powerful way to dismiss things without applying any any critical thought to the content of the object of discussion. In other words it is argumentation petitio principii, where the form of the argument is “the internet meme, the new aesthetic, should be ignored because it is an internet meme”. Or even, in some forms, an argumentum ad hominem, where the attack is aimed at James Bridle (as the originator of the term) rather than the new aesthetic itself. Equally, the attacks may also be combined.

I think the whole ‘internet meme’, ‘buzz’, ‘promotional strategy’ angle on the new aesthetic is indicative of a wider set of worries in relation to a new scepticism, as it were (related also to the skepticism movement too, possibly). We see it on Twitter where the medium of communication seems to encourage a kind of mass scepticism, where one (the one as Das Man) assumes a priori that the other side is blindly following, a ‘fanboy’, irrational, suspect, or somehow beholden to a dark power to close, restrict or tighten individual freedoms – of course, the ‘I’ is smart enough to reject the illusion and unmask the hidden forces. This is also, I think, a worry of being caught out, being laughed at, or distracted by (yet) another internet fad. I also worry that the new aesthetic ‘internet meme’ criticism is particularly ad hominem, usually aimed, as it is, towards its birth within the creative industries. I think we really need to move on from this level of scepticism and be more dialectical in our attitude towards the possibilities in, and suggested by, the new aesthetic. This is where critical theory can be a valuable contributor to the debate.

For example, part of the new aesthetic, is a form of cultural practice which is related to a postmodern and fundamentally paranoid vision of being watched, observed, coded, processed or formatted. I find particularly fascinating the aesthetic dimension to this, in as much as the representational practices are often (but not always) retro, and in some senses, tangential to the physical, cultural, or even computational processes actually associated with such technologies. This is both, I suppose, a distraction, in as much as it misses the target, if we assume that the real can ever be represented accurately (which I don’t), but also and more promisingly an aesthetic that remains firmly human mediated, contra to the claims of those who want to “see like machines”. That is, the new aesthetic is an aestheticization of computational technology and computational techniques more generally. It is also fascinating in terms of the refusal of the new aesthetic to abide by the careful boundary monitoring of art and the ‘creative industry’ more generally, really bringing to the fore the questions raised by Liu, for example, in The Laws of Cool. One might say that it follows the computational propensity towards dissolving of traditional boundaries and disciplinary borders.

I also find the new aesthetic important for it has an inbuilt potentiality towards critical reflexivity, both towards itself (does the new aesthetic exist?) but also towards both artistic practice (is this art?), curation (should this be in galleries?), and technology (what is technology?). There is also, I believe, an interesting utopian kernel to the new aesthetic, in terms of its visions and creations – what we might call the paradigmatic forms – which mark the crossing over of certain important boundaries, such as culture/nature, technology/human, economic/aesthetic and so on. Here I am thinking of the notion of augmented humanity, or humanity 2.0, for example. This criticality is manifested in the new aesthetic’s continual seeking to ‘open up’ black boxes of technology, to look at developments in science, technology and technique and to try to place them within histories and traditions – in the reemergence of social contradictions, for example. But even an autonomous new aesthetic, as it were, points towards the anonymous and universal political and cultural domination represented by computational techniques which are now deeply embedded in systems that we experience in all aspects of our lives. There is much to explore here.

Moroso pixelated sofa and nanimaquina rug, featured on Design Milk

The new aesthetic, of course, is as much symptomatic of a computational world as itself subject to the forces that drive that world. This means that it has every potential to be sold, standardised, and served up to the willing mass of consumers as any other neatly packaged product. Perhaps even more so, with its ease of distribution and reconfiguration within computational systems, such as Twitter and Tumblr. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and so far I have more hope that it even in its impoverished consumerized form, it still serves to serve notice of computational thinking and processes, which stand out then against other logics. This is certainly one of the interesting dimensions to the new aesthetic both in terms of the materiality of computationality, but also in terms of the need to understand the logics of postmodern capitalism, even ones as abstract as obscure computational systems of control.

For me, the very possibility of a self-defined new ‘aesthetic’ enables this potentiality – of course, there are no simple concepts as such, but the new aesthetic, for me, acts as a “bridge” (following Deleuze and Guattari for a moment). By claiming that it is new ‘aesthetic’ makes possible the conceptual resources associated with and materialised in practices, which may need to be “dusted off” and to be used as if they were, in a sense, autonomous (that is, even, uncritical). This decoupling of the concept (no matter that in actuality one might claim that no such decoupling could really have happened) potentially changes the nature of the performances that are facilitated or granted by the space opened within the constellation of concepts around the ‘new aesthetic’ (again, whatever that is) – in a sense this might also render components within the new aesthetic inseparable as the optic of the new aesthetic, like any medium, may change the nature of what can be seen. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing though. 

Glitch Textiles by Phillip David Stearns

Another way of putting it, perhaps, would be that a social ontology is made possible, which, within the terms of the the constellation of practices and concepts grounding it, is both distanced from and placed in opposition to existing and historical practices. Where this is interesting is that, so far, the new aesthetic, as a set of curatorial or collectionist practices, has been deeply recursive in its manifestation – both computational in structure (certainly something I am interested in about it) – and also strikingly visual (so far) – and here the possibility of an immanent critique central to the new aesthetic can be identified, I think. Of course, it is too early to say how far we can push this, especially with something as nascent as the new aesthetic, which is still very much a contested constellation of concepts and ideas and playing out in various media forms, etc., but nonetheless, I suggest that one might still detect the outlines of a kind of mediated non-identity implicit within the new aesthetic, and this makes it interesting. So I am not claiming, in any sense, that the new aesthetic was “founded on critical thinking”, rather that in a similar way that computational processes are not “critical thinking” but contain a certain non-reflexive reflexivity when seen through their recursive strategies – but again this is a potentiality that needs to be uncovered, and not in any sense determined. This is, perhaps, the site of a politics of the new aesthetic.

Certainly there is much work to be done with the new aesthetic, and I, for one, do not think that everything is fixed in aspic – either by Bridle or any of the other commentators. Indeed, there is a need for thinking about the new aesthetic from a number of different perspectives, that for me is the point at which the new aesthetic is interesting for thinking with, and pushing it away seems to me to be an “over-hasty” move when it clearly points to a either a fresh constellations of concepts and ideas, or certainly a means for us to think about the old constellations in a new way. This means that we should not aim to be either for or against the new aesthetic, as such, but rather more interested in the philosophical and political work the new aesthetic makes possible.

New Book: New Aesthetic, New Anxieties

New Aesthetic New Anxieties is the result of a five day Book Sprint organized by Michelle Kasprzak and led by Adam Hyde at V2_ from June 17–21, 2012. Authors: David M. BerryMichel van DartelMichael DieterMichelle KasprzakNat MullerRachel O’Reilly and José Luis de Vicente. Facilitated by: Adam Hyde

You can download the e-book as an EPUB, MOBI, or PDF.

EPUB: http://www.v2.nl/files/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties-epub

MOBI: http://www.v2.nl/files/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties-mobi

PDF: http://www.v2.nl/files/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties-pdf

Annotatable online version: http://www.booki.cc/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties/_draft/_v/1.0/preface/

The New Aesthetic was a design concept and netculture phenomenon launched into the world by London designer James Bridle in 2011. It continues to attract the attention of media art, and throw up associations to a variety of situated practices, including speculative design, net criticism, hacking, free and open source software development, locative media, sustainable hardware and so on. This is how we have considered the New Aesthetic: as an opportunity to rethink the relations between these contexts in the emergent episteme of computationality. There is a desperate need to confront the political pressures of neoliberalism manifested in these infrastructures. Indeed, these are risky, dangerous and problematic times; a period when critique should thrive. But here we need to forge new alliances, invent and discover problems of the common that nevertheless do not eliminate the fundamental differences in this ecology of practices. In this book, perhaps provocatively, we believe a great deal could be learned from the development of the New Aesthetic not only as a mood, but as a topic and fix for collective feeling, that temporarily mobilizes networks. Is it possible to sustain and capture these atmospheres of debate and discussion beyond knee-jerk reactions and opportunistic self-promotion? These are crucial questions that the New Aesthetic invites us to consider, if only to keep a critical network culture in place.

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The New Bifurcation? Object-Oriented Ontology and Computation

Alan Turing

There are now some interesting challenges emerging to the philosophical systems described in object-oriented ontology, such as Alex Galloway’s recent piece, ‘A response to Graham Harman’s “Marginalia on Radical Thinking”’ and Christian Thorne’s, ‘To The Political Ontologists‘, as well as my own contribution, ‘The Uses of Object-Oriented Ontology‘.

Here, I want to tentatively explore the links between my own notion of computationality as ontotheology and how object-oriented ontology unconsciously reproduces some of these structural features that I think are apparent in its ontological and theological moments. In order to do this, I want to begin outlining some of the ways one might expect the ‘ontological moment’, as it were, to be dominated by computational categories and ideas which seem to hold greater explanatory power. In this regard I think this recent tweet by Robert Jackson is extremely revealing,

Robert Jackson (@Recursive_idiot)

04/06/2012 13:34

I think this Galloway / OOO issue can be resolved with computability theory. Objects / units need not be compatible with the state.

Revealing, too, are the recent discussions by members of object-oriented ontology and the importance of the computational medium for facilitating its reproduction – see Levi Bryant’s post ‘The Materiality of SR/OOO: Why Has It Proliferated?‘, and Graham Harman’s post ‘on philosophical movements that develop on the internet‘.

It is interesting to note that these philosophers do not take account of the possibility that the computational medium itself may have transformed the way in which they understand the ontological dimension of their projects. Indeed, the taken-for-granted materiality of digital media is clearly being referred to in relation to a form of communication theory – as if the internet were merely a transparent transmission channel – rather than seeing the affordances of the medium encouraging, shaping, or creating certain ways of thinking about things, as such.

Of course, they might respond, clearly the speed and publishing affordances allow them to get their messages out quicker, correct them, and create faster feedback and feedforward loops. However, I would argue that the computational layers (software, applications, blogs, tweets, etc.) also discipline the user/writer/philosopher to think within and through particular computational categories. I think it is not a coincidence that what is perhaps the first internet or born-digital philosophy has certain overdetermined characteristics that reflect the medium within which they have emerged. I am not alone in making this observation, indeed, Alexander Galloway has started to examine the same question, writing,

[T]he French philosopher Catherine Malabou asks: “What should we do so that consciousness of the brain does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism?”….Malabou’s query resonates far and wide because it cuts to the heart of what is wrong with some philosophical thinking appearing these days. The basic grievance is this: why, within the current renaissance of research in continental philosophy, is there a coincidence between the structure of ontological systems and the structure of the most highly-evolved technologies of postfordist capitalism? I am speaking, on the one hand, of computer networks in general, and object-oriented computer languages (such as Java or C++) in particular, and on the other hand, of certain realist philosophers such as Bruno Latour, but also more pointedly Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, and their associated school known as “speculative realism.” Why do these philosophers, when holding up a mirror to nature, see the mode of production reflected back at them? Why, in short, a coincidence between today’s ontologies and the software of big business? (Galloway, forthcoming, original emphasis)

He further argues:

Philosophy and computer science are not unconnected. In fact they share an intimate connection, and have for some time. For example, set theory, topology, graph theory, cybernetics and general system theory are part of the intellectual lineage of both object-oriented computer languages, which inherit the principles of these scientific fields with great fidelity, and for recent continental philosophy including figures like Deleuze, Badiou, Luhmann, or Latour. Where does Deleuze’s “control society” come from if not from Norbert Wiener’s definition of cybernetics? Where do Latour’s “actants” come from if not from systems theory? Where does Levi Bryant’s “difference that makes a difference” come from if not from Gregory Bateson’s theory of information? (Galloway, forthcoming).

Ian Bogost’s (2012) Alien Phenomenology is perhaps the most obvious case where the links between his computational approach and his philosophical system are deeply entwined, objects, units, collections, lists, software philosophy, carpentry (as programming) etc. Indeed, Robert Jackson also discusses some of the links with computation, making connections between the notion of interfaces and encapsulation, and so forth, in object-oriented programming in relation to forms of object-orient ontology’s notion of withdrawal, etc. He writes,

Encapsulation is the notion that objects have both public and private logics inherent to their components. But we should be careful not to regard the notion that private information is deliberately hidden from view, it is rather the unconditional indifference of objects qua objects. Certain aspects of the object are made public and others are occluded by blocking off layers of data. The encapsulated data can still be related to, even if the object itself fails to reveal it (Jackson 2011).

This, he argues, serves as a paradigmatic example of the object-oriented ontologists’ speculations about objects as objects. Therefore, a research project around object-oriented computational systems would, presumably, allow us to cast light on wider questions about other kinds of objects, after all, objects are objects, in the flat ontology of object-oriented ontology. In contrast, I would argue that it is no surprise that object-oriented ontology and object-oriented programming have these deep similarities as they are drawing from the same computational imaginary, or foundational ideas, about what things are or how they are categorised in the world, in other words a computational ontotheology – computationality.

The next move is the step that Alex Galloway makes, to link this to the wider capitalist order, postfordist or informational capitalism (what I would call Late Capitalism). He then explores how this ideological superstructure is imposed onto a capitalist mode of production, both to legitimate and to explain its naturalness or inevitability. Galloway argues,

(1) If recent realist philosophy mimics the infrastructure of contemporary capitalism, should we not show it the door based on this fact alone, the assumption being that any mere repackaging of contemporary ideology is, by definition, anti-scientific and therefore suspect on epistemological grounds? And (2) even if one overlooks the epistemological shortcomings, should we not critique it on purely political grounds, the argument being that any philosophical project that seeks to ventriloquize the current industrial arrangement is, for this very reason, politically retrograde? (Galloway, forthcoming).

He further writes,

Granted, merely identifying a formal congruity is not damning in itself. There are any number of structures that “look like” other structures. And we must be vigilant not to fetishize form as some kind of divination–just as numerology fetishizes number. Nevertheless are we not obligated to interrogate such a congruity? Is such a mimetic relationship cause for concern? Meillassoux and others have recently mounted powerful critiques of “correlationism,” so why a blindness toward this more elemental correlation?… What should we do so that our understanding of the world does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism? (Galloway, forthcoming, original emphasis).

Galloway concludes his article by making the important distinction between materialism and realism, pointing out that materialism must be historical and critical whereas realism tends towards an ahistoricism. By historicising object-oriented ontology, we are able to discern the links between the underlying computational capitalism and its theoretical and philosophical manifestations.

Chales Darwin

More work needs to be done here to trace the trajectories that are hinted at, particularly the computationality I see implicit in object-oriented ontology and speculative realism more generally. But I also want to tentatively gesture towards object-oriented ontology as one discourse contributing to a new bifurcation (as Whitehead referred to the nature/culture split). In this case, not between nature and culture, which today have begun to reconnect as dual hybridised sites of political contestation – for example, climate change – but rather as computation versus nature-culture.

Where nature-culture becomes a site of difference, disagreement, political relativism and a kind of ‘secondary’ quality, in other words ‘values’ and ‘felicity conditions’. Computationality, or some related ontological form, becomes the site of primary qualities or ‘facts’, the site of objectivity, and is foundational, ahistorical, unchanging and a replacement for nature in modernity as the site of agreement upon which a polity is made possible – a computational society.

Here, the abstract nature of objects within object-oriented programming, formal objects which inter-relate to each other and interact (or not), and yet remain deeply computational, mathematical and discrete is more than suggestive of the flat ontology that object-oriented ontology covets. The purification process of object-oriented design/programming is also illustrative of the gradual emptying of the universe of ‘non-objects’ by object-oriented ontology, which then serves to create ontological weight, and the possibility of shared consensus within this new bifurcated world. This creates a united foundation, understood as ontological, a site of objectivity, facts, and with a strict border control to prevent this pure realm being affected by the newly excised nature-culture. Within this new bifurcation, we see pure objects placed in the bifurcated object-space and subjects are located in the nature-culture space – this is demonstrated by the empty litanies that object-oriented ontologists share and which describe abstract objects, not concrete entities. This is clearly ironic in a philosophical movement that claims to be wholly realist and displays again the anti-correlationist paradox of object-oriented ontology.

This ontological directive also points thought towards the cartography of pure objects, propositions on the nature of ‘angels’, ‘Popeye’ and ‘unicorns’, and commentary on commentary in a scholastic vortex through textual attempts to capture and describe this abstract sphere – without ever venturing into the ‘great outdoors’ that object-oriented ontologists claim to respect. What could be closer to the experience of contemporary capitalist experience than the digital mazes that are set up by the likes of Facebook and Google, to trap the user into promises of entertainment and fulfilment by moving deeper and deeper around the social ontologies represented in capitalist social networks, and which ultimately resolve in watching advertisements to fuel computational capitalism?

Galloway rightly shows us how to break this spell, reflected also in the object-oriented ontologists refusal to historicise, through a concrete analysis of the historical and material conditions of production, he writes:

One might therefore label this the postfordist response to philosophical realism in general and Meillassoux in particular: after software has entered history, math cannot and should not be understood ahistorically… math itself, as algorithm, has become a historical actor. (Galloway, forthcoming, original emphasis).

Bibliography

Bogost, I. (2012a) Alien Phenomenology: or What It’s Like To Be A Thing, Minnesota University Press.

Galloway, A. R. (forthcoming) The Poverty of Philosophy: Realism and Postfordism, copy supplied by the author.

Jackson, R. (2011) Why we should be Discrete in Public – Encapsulation and the Private lives of Objects, accessed 04/06/2012, http://robertjackson.info/index/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Aarhus-presentation.pdf

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Taking Care of the New Aesthetic

Strangely, and somewhat unexpectedly, James Bridle unilaterally closed the New Aesthetic Tumblr blog today, 6 May 2012, announcing ‘The New Aesthetic tumblr is now closed’, with some particular and general thanks and very little information about future plans. Perhaps this was always Bridle’s intention as a private project, but one can’t help wonder if the large amount of attention, the move to a public and contested concept, and the loss of control that this entailed may have encouraged a re-assertion of control. If so, this is a great pity and perhaps even an act of vandalism.

Harpa, Iceland  (Berry 2011)

This, then, is a critical turning point, or krisis,[1] for the nascent New Aesthetic movement, and, for me, the blog closure heralds an interesting struggle over what is the New Aesthetic? Who owns or controls it? And in what directions it can now move.? Certainly, I am of the opinion that to have closed the blog in this way insinuates a certain proprietary attitude to the New Aesthetic. Considering that the Tumblr blog has largely been a crowd-sourced project, giving no explanation, allowing no debate, discussion over the closure, etc. makes it look rather like it harvested peoples’ submissions on what could have been a potentially participatory project. Whichever way it is cast, James Bridle looks rather high-handed in light of the many generous and interesting discussions that the New Aesthetic has thrown up across a variety of media.

One of the key questions will be the extent to which this blog was a central locus of, or collection for representing, the New Aesthetic more generally. Personally I found myself less interested in the Tumblr blog that became increasingly irrelevant in light of the high level of discussion found upon ImpericaThe Creators ProjectThe AtlanticCrumb and elsewhere. But there is clearly a need for something beyond the mere writing and rewriting of the New Aesthetic that many of the essays around the topic represented. Indeed, there is a need for an inscription or articulation of the New Aesthetic through multiple forms, both visual and written (not to mention using the sensorium more generally). I hope that we will see a thousand New Aesthetic PinterestTumblr, and PinIt sites bloom across the web.

Urban Cursor is a GPS enabled object (Sebastian Campion 2009)

Nonetheless, it is disappointing to see the number of twitter commentators who have tweeted the equivalent of ‘well, that was that’, as if the single action of an individual is decisive in stifling a new and exciting way of articulating a way of being in the world. Indeed, this blog closure highlights the importance of taking care of the New Aesthetic, especially in its formative stages of development. Whilst there have been a number of dismissive and critical commentaries written about the New Aesthetic, I feel that there is a kernel of something radical and interesting happening and which still remains to be fully articulated, expressed, and made manifest in and through various mediums of expression.

The New Aesthetic blog might be dead, but the New Aesthetic as a way of conceptualising the changes in our everyday life that are made possible in and through digital technology is still unfolding. For me the New Aesthetic was not so much a collection of things as the beginning of a new kind of Archive, an Archive in Motion, which combined what Bernard Stiegler called the Anamnesis (the embodied act of memory as recollection or remembrance) and Hypomnesis (the making-technical of memory through writing, photography, machines, etc.). Stiegler writes,

We have all had the experience of misplacing a memory bearing object – a slip of paper, an annotated book, an agenda, relic or fetish, etc. We discover then that a part of ourselves (like our memory) is outside of us. This material memory, that Hegel named objective, is partial. But it constitutes the most precious part of human memory: therein, the totality of the works of spirit, in all guises and aspects, takes shape (Stiegler n.d.).

Thus, particularly in relation to the affordances given by the networked and social media within which it circulated, combined with a set of nascent practices of collection, archive and display, the New Aesthetic is distinctive in a number of ways. Firstly, it gives a description and a way of representing and mediating the world in and through the digital, that is understandable as an infinite archive (or collection). Secondly, it alternately highlights that something digital is happening in culture – and which we have only barely been conscious of – and the way in which culture is happening to the digital.  Lastly, the New Aesthetic points the direction of travel for the possibility of a Work of Art in the digital age.

In this, the New Aesthetic is something of a pharmakon, in that it is both potentially poison and cure for an age of pattern matching and pattern recognition. In as much as the archive was the set of rules governing the range of what can be verbally, audio-visually or alphanumerically expressed at all, and the database is the grounding cultural logic of software cultures, the New Aesthetic is the cultural eruption of the grammatisation of software logics into everyday life. That is, the New Aesthetic is a deictic moment which sheds light on changes in our lives that imperil things, practices, and engaging human relations, and the desire to make room for such relations, particularly when they are struggling to assert themselves against the dominance of neoliberal governance, bureaucratic structures and market logics.[2]

The New Aesthetic, in other words, brings these patterns to the surface, and in doing so articulates the unseen and little understood logic of computational society and the anxieties that this introduces.

Notes

[1] krisis: a separating, power of distinguishing, decision , choice, election, judgment, dispute.

 

[2] A deictic explanation is here understood as one which articulates a thing or event in its uniqueness. 

 

Bibliography

Stiegler, B. (n.d.)  Anamnesis and Hypomnesis, accessed 06/05/2012, http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis

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New Book: New Aesthetic, New Anxieties

New Aesthetic New Anxieties is the result of a five day Book Sprint organized by Michelle Kasprzak and led by Adam Hyde at V2_ from June 17–21, 2012. Authors: David M. Berry, Michel van Dartel, Michael Dieter, Michelle Kasprzak, Nat Muller, Rachel O’Reilly and José Luis de Vicente. Facilitated by: Adam Hyde

You can download the e-book as an EPUB, MOBI, or PDF.

EPUB: http://www.v2.nl/files/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties-epub
MOBI: http://www.v2.nl/files/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties-mobi
PDF: http://www.v2.nl/files/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties-pdf

Annotatable online version: http://www.booki.cc/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties/_draft/_v/1.0/preface/

The New Aesthetic was a design concept and netculture phenomenon launched into the world by London designer James Bridle in 2011. It continues to attract the attention of media art, and throw up associations to a variety of situated practices, including speculative design, net criticism, hacking, free and open source software development, locative media, sustainable hardware and so on. This is how we have considered the New Aesthetic: as an opportunity to rethink the relations between these contexts in the emergent episteme of computationality. There is a desperate need to confront the political pressures of neoliberalism manifested in these infrastructures. Indeed, these are risky, dangerous and problematic times; a period when critique should thrive. But here we need to forge new alliances, invent and discover problems of the common that nevertheless do not eliminate the fundamental differences in this ecology of practices. In this book, perhaps provocatively, we believe a great deal could be learned from the development of the New Aesthetic not only as a mood, but as a topic and fix for collective feeling, that temporarily mobilizes networks. Is it possible to sustain and capture these atmospheres of debate and discussion beyond knee-jerk reactions and opportunistic self-promotion? These are crucial questions that the New Aesthetic invites us to consider, if only to keep a critical network culture in place.

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