At the Trade Show during the tech section of SXSW, I spent a fascinating afternoon exploring the various technologies, software solutions, inventions and other tech paraphenalia on the convention floor. Much of the stuff on display was connected to data management and analysis, and scattered amongst it all were innovations from all over the world. Down one particualr aisle we came across a crowd of people talking and laughing and generally making a big hubbub. Turned out that they were interacting with a new mobile video-casting technology called Beam. Essentially a big monitor screen set at eye level on wheels, it was a remarkable experience to chat with someone ocated elsewhere, have them 'walk' along with you and interact in a very relaxed way. It sorted of reminded me of something that might have been utilized in Spike Jonze's Her.
The device showed up again yesterday at the TED conference in Vancouver. Afriend of mine who is attending, posted a picture of Tim Berners Lee interviewed Edward Snowden, and Snowden was 'on stage' via a Beam device.
Of course web-conferencing is nothing new, what is new is the recovery of partial mobility. Given that communication is more than a 'talking head' enterprise, it is still surprising how much of a humanising element the simple mobility, size and height of the device offers--it represents something of a communication shift in my mind, probably more in the mind of the reciever than anything, but a shift nonetheless. There has been chatter of late, that we have come to the end of an invention cycle in terms of new devices--i.e. with smart phones and tablets etc., there is not much else we need in terms of device innovation. I don't know if that is true or not, who knew we 'needed' what we have now, and I feel that we are never as sure of what is ahead of us as we would like to think. Regardless of that conversation, it seems to me, that innovation, at least in the immediate, will be focused a bit more on making our interactions with technology more 'real.'
For instance, Apple's shift away from skeuomorphic design (Skeuomorphism is a catch-all term for when objects retain ornamental elements of past, derivative iterations–elements that are no longer necessary to the current objects’ functions), the opting for a more flattened design approach to our interface with it's technology would seem to represent an awareness that our familiarity with it no longer requires a referencing of old technologies to make us feel comfortable. Beyond this it seems we might be getting a slew of things to make us even more seamless in our interactions.
Now let me say that I am not a 'singularity' disciple, the idea that one day artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence radically changing human civilization and nature seems a little much to me, and smacks of an apocalypticism that threads through much of American culture, like the ghost of a particular religious influence. So when I speak about this, I do so with a bit of a amoral perspective, I try not to be a Luddite or blind appropriator, but as I look around I simply see more and more ways in which technology is being woven into the fabric of our lives and ultimately perhaps, under our skin. Like most technological shifts we will probably do our best thinking about it after the fact, once we have embedded it and experience both the losses and gains. In the meantime, Beam is a remarkable device that allows for a more flexible and fluid engagement with human and machine.
As for Edward Snowden, he said something about surveillance and Internet freedom. The right to data privacy, he suggests, is not a partisan issue, but requires a fundamental rethink of the role of the internet in our lives — and the laws that protect it. "Your rights matter,” he say, "because you never know when you're going to need them." You can follow that conversation here.
I find maps quite fascinatng, they are documents of our limitations, the boundaries and borders of our perceptions as well as the charting of our knowledge. Maps aren't always necessarily geographic and in recent years as we have shifted our horizons toward the digital, cartographers have emerged with charts and maps of the new geography. Works by Martin Vargic, executed by hand in his spare time using Photoshop were some of the earliest attempts, and now comes a new piece by him and another artist, Jay Simon. Together they have created a map with an old world feel to it, but it is anything but old, hundreds of net ventures are charted and mapped, fascinating. You can buy a copy here.
You can also check this link out for another, and ongoing, approach to mapping digital space.
Guitarist Dave Navarro has a sweet little hobby/project, Flat Guitars. Perhaps I should have put a geek warning on this post--obviously, this will not appeal to everyone, a site devoted to 'flat' graphic versions of famous guitars and guitarists. Illustrations come with a little blurb and a couple of links.
I have been fascinated with the shift to flatness on the web, so that probably figures in my interest with this site--I like guitars but am not one of those people for whom a particular instrument holds some enchantment. The flatness thing is, in my mind, a significant development of the past couple of years. Apple, amongst others, turned away from its original design maxim of attempting to imbue their products with a sense of the 'real world' and has flattened everything with iOS7. So flatguitars is simply another representation of that idea on some level.
It would seem that flatness itself heralds a growing change in our understanding of space and time. I think that we learn to look at the world through the dominant technologies we embrace (an idea I drew upon many years ago from the work of Erik Davis), and this shift to flatness heralds, or at least, nods, toward that dynamic. As we have become increasingly embracing and dependent upon digital technology, and the new sense of the world that it brings to us, we no longer feel the need to replicate the sense of the old reality upon it. In other words, the world of the web, no longer needs to feel like the world shaped by text, it is its own reality, and is also re-framing how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. Flatness would seem to point towards a more materialist understanding of the world-surface is depth, and what we need is found there. jeez, that's a bit long-winded for a quick post about bloody guitar illustrations!:)
The commercial above for the iPhone 5 has been garnering some critique. As you've seen it's a typical teenager, moping about...but not really, turns out said mopey-teen has been documenting family celebrations after all and has used amazing editing chops, great music and his life-altering mobile device to create a moving chronicle of his families Christmas. One of the critiques I read complained that the boy had to 'adopt an anthropological remove,' to be outside all the events he recorded, and would have been better off participating. This is a critique I hear a lot about technology, 'it stops people from being present...they aren't participating etc.' While I'm sure there are valid shades to that argument, mostly I think its stretched a little too far, and fits too nicely into a preconceived view of things.
The funny thing about many of the critiques of the ad is that the critics are completely caught up in the creators web--they immediately identify with the bored, mopey teen, and tun immediately to their arguments about voyeurism, obsessive disconnection etc., except that on this particular occasion, said teen is playing a role, and is, in fact, paying attention to the larger story going on around him, and he is fully present.
I think the moral of the story is twofold. Firstly, I resist the idea that one cannot be present and capturing moments at the same time (which, of course, is the point of the video, well that and selling you a device!), I do it all the time. People who know me give me Moleskine notebooks because I always carry one and make notes, write down ideas, quotes I'm hearing etc. and in order to do that I pause, and I often 'sit slightly outside' events, it's part of who I am--there is a fine line between voyeurism and observation.
Secondly, I do agree with the old exhortation to moderation in all things, and there are times when particiaption and engagment should be prioritized and anthropological remove negated, but sometimes I think the naysayers are just a bit too quick to critique and are in fact, not in the moment themselves, they are standing outside in a posture of anthropological remove with a preconceived idea ready to lay over whatever comes before them, just like mopey teens.
“I think of tattooing as scratching off the surface and revealing what’s really under there" Mr. X
A bus went past me this morning with a huge ad plastered all over it for the Microsoft tablet, Surface. I have never used anything but Apple products, so I have no idea of it's quality or functionality, but I do think it's name captures something of the times in which we live in a canny way. I mean let's face it, the whole 'i' this or that feels a little dated to me. Steve jobs had a fascination with skeuomorphic design--bringing unnecessary elements from one iteration of a design into a new version in order to naturalize the experience--so the notepad app on your device looked sort of like a yellow legal notepad, etc. One of the big complaints about the iOS7 upgrade was its 'flatness.' That skeuomorphic tendency continues to be reflected in the names of Apple products--I doubt it can or will change because it has become the brand marker, but again, your iphone isn't really a phone, its a mobile device that has phone capabilities but it's not a phone--nor for that matter is my ipad, a pad--its a surface. So kudos to Microsoft for capturing what's going on in the name of a device.
I think I probably have a heightened awareness to surfaces at the moment because I have been reading Mark C. Taylor's Hiding, in the theology book group I participate in. Taylor views his work as 'a surface play' rather than a book, and it is a celebration and critique of the surface of things.
"Surface has never been accepted and embraced as such but is always justified in terms of the heavens or the depths. When height and depth collapse, we are left with nothing more and nothing less than the proliferation of fleeting surfaces. To insist that these surfaces obscure more secure depths is to flee the creative-destructive effervescence that is our condition." MCT
My interest in surface goes back a long way, it crystallized during my PhD work, where I explored the new cultural implication for Christianity. I used this term, rhyzomic sacralization, to mark the way in which ideas move across the surface of the culture, linking, and forming webs of connectivity as we attempt to negotiate the new digital realities. My thinking on this was influenced by things like Kevin Costner's Waterworld, and the work of artist Mark Tansey, and other explorations of things that flat on the surface of culture, often viewed as inconsequential, but in my mind, of import both in terms of reflection and reaction to how the world shapes us even as we shape it.
I'm also fascinated by tattoos and, as part of my field research component, explored tattooing as means by which we could understand the cultural shifts that were literally being inscribed upon the surface of us, upon our skin. I think the broad embrace of tattooing by mainstream society, and the use of dermis as a site for inscribing meaning is very interesting and again, comes back to this shift to surface idea. Of course, it is more than tattooing on the surface of skin, there are other elements that go deeper--body-piercings, modifications etc., but those still remain slightly further on the margins than tattooing. I was inspired to this by the work of shelley Jackson, whose Skin project I came across in Cabinet magazine. She had a story and wanted to write it on skin, so she invited people to volunteer to be tattooed with a single word from the story. Only those who signed on would know the whole story, and they had to be willing to get any word they were given tattooed on the body in a classic book font and in black ink--over 2000 have participated,
I am not dystopian, surprising given my tendency toward depression and melancholy, but I pursue a positive trajectory across the cultural surface--surface is depth--and meaning is made here. That doesn't mean I am optimistic, because optimism is hard for me. But this resistance to dystopian positioning has often put me at odds, or at least on a different trajectory, with many of my peers who approach culture through the lens of religion. There seems to be a tendency to lead with critique, a product of certain religious conditioning I believe, whereas, to echo the other Taylor, I go with celebration. It's not that I won't, or don't critique, it's that I won't hold up the past as a model for something to return to--I see no benefit in reaching back, reflecting back sure, but the times are what they are, and they need to be critiqued and celebrated on their own terms, and critique is easy-the making is the hard part. Celebration has 'respect' as part of it's definition, so perhaps I should say, I respect and critique.
"What I am trying to do is to articulate the conditions of alternative cultural practices. I'm convinced that in the twenty-first century, the domain of social and political contestation will be the symbolic order or the imaginary register. That is where what once was called "reality" will be constituted. I see it as incumbent upon us to understand these structures and processes and to develop strategies and tactics that will enable us to intervene effectively." MCT
This fascination with surface has also affected the way I think about the inner/outer components of religion. The positing of going inward as going deeper versus allowing the surface to be the site of religious interface. What I mean is we tend to what to plumb the depths of our humanity by ignoring the skin, the flesh, the surface, in fact, we don't just ignore, we demonize, negate and repress the surface in the quest for religious depth and authenticity and I am not sure this is either necessary or helpful in the interplay of surfaces which is life in the 21st century. In Waterworld (I know, but it's good:)), Kevin Costner's character has developed a set of gills, which enable him to go below the surface and bringup artifacts that can still have life on the surface. There is a whole world down there, under the water, it used to be the 'real world' now it's the ghost of a past that is no longer viable. He doesn't want to live there, he just brings up what can be used on the surface. This for me is the shift we must make with our religion, we cannot live in the depths, submerged in an old world, we have to find ways to live on the surface in new ways, floating across the seas, building new networks of being and relations. some artifacts from the old world can be utilized, most of them can't--this is particularly true of religion for me.
This is what 200 hours a finger, an iPad Air, the app Procreate and immense talent will get you. Kyle Lambert.
This is cool
Nearly a half century after Dylan released Like A Rolling Stone comes a crazy interactive video for the song that features various people on different tv channels lip-synching the song--you can change the channels as you watch, pretty out there and surprising after all this time. Here.
I've been thinking a lot about technology lately. For a number of reasons not the least of which is because I have been teaching a class on theology and media culture, half of it devoted to television, the other to digital technologies. The ultimate goal of the class is to think about theologies of technology and as we are drawing near to the end of the course, I am focusing my own thinking, tweaking old ideas, reflecting on new possibilities and attempting, as always, to refine my own thinking and approaches to the realm of technology.
One of the things I have noticed is the reticence from the majority of Christian thinkers on this stuff. The usual approach is generally one of caution and critique, apart from Mark C Taylor most of the reading I have come across has essentially painted a wary posture towards technology and culture, something that does not sit well with me. I am just not a culture-despiser, nor am I blind to folly, or for the need for critique, but I begin with enthusiasm not suspicion (that's the reverse of how I do all my thinking about church funnily enough-ha! must think about that:)). I think this is probably because I do not regard secular society as a problem, but rather as the condition, and secondly, I believe that secularity is a product of religion and therefore has a religious dimension or shape to it, so while I may find much to challenge, I cannot create the pseudo-objective, too prescriptive correcto-theology that often is the result of these engagements. I'll post my latest theological posturings in the next couple of weeks as I bring the class to a close, but in the meantime, you can enjoy these photos from Noodlez--Yes its a naked woman smashing technology-trite, predictable, unnecessary-maybe, but they are cool photos.