Author Archives: David Hemminger
Reading Ebocloud reminded me of one of my favorite TED talks, “The Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain. In her talk, she emphasizes different ways introverts play important and often critical roles in our society. She makes points about creativity requiring periods of isolation and other ways that introverted behavior is often so useful. Being a pretty strong introvert myself, most of her points make a lot of sense to me, and many of the examples she describes have at some point applied directly to me or to someone I know. It is probably for this reason that the technology in Ebocloud unsettles me so much. I can’t imagine an environment less conducive to introverts.
The dToos have some extremely cool applications in the book. I particularly liked the Helping Hands app and the example of the group of friends collectively jumping out of the way of a bus, and I generally enjoyed Moss’s cleverness in coming up with interesting applications for the technology. What I think would be problematic, however, is the overarching goal to bring human minds closer to together and forever end human loneliness. While the idea of it sounds good in theory (especially to extroverts), I think the constant connection would become exhausting and eventually debilitating.
I would claim that any current (and foreseeable future) human society requires hermits and eccentrics to function. Even in the world of Ebocloud, the majority of the innovation driving the new tattoos comes from the two characters in the book most separated from the rest of the world, Radu and Ernesto, and it should also be mentioned that Lotte and Penchast choose to leave for a remote island in Desalt’s novel.
Uexküll and Sebeok used the term “umwelt” in their semiotic theories to refer to each organism’s own self-centered world. They argued that different organisms sharing the same environment could still have entirely different umwelts, as they would each perceive and interpret their surroundings differently. In the current media age with companies that tailor internet advertisements to users and content available through countless different types of media, this idea has become far more relevant.
In this project I will study how digital augmentations to individuals’ realities and various media options create different umwelts. I will also demonstrate this concept by creating content that will be perceived and perhaps interpreted differently depending on the medium through which the content is viewed and however the user’s perception of that medium might be augmented. Finally, I will explore and critique examples of artificially-created umwelts, such as the recent xkcd comic strip.
In an obscure corner of the Internet resides a barren page. Usually it shows nothing but a black background, though occasionally a single character may be found. The only clue to its past rests in its title, “degenerative”, and a brief about page archiving pieces of its history. A more thorough explanation is offered, but links to a hacked page, further contributing to the viewer’s impression that they are visiting a ghost town.
The theme of the “degenerative” project was destruction. To say that the webpage self destructed over a period of four months would almost be correct, except for the fact that its disappearance was inseparably connected with its viewers. When the page’s author Eugenio Tisselli originally created the page, he attached to it a script that would automatically change or delete a random character each time the page was removed. The page would in fact remain unmarred — until people looked at it. The script destroyed the page in the end, but needed the help of the public.
Rather than simply augmenting a piece of text from the periphery, the script behind the webpage is the primary component of “degenerative” as a work of electronic literature. While the original text was a calculated creation of the author, it immediately became fluid as it was viewed in ways that were random and therefore beyond even his control. Thus the process becomes more relevant than the product when we consider questions about what the piece is arguing. This process exists in written form as the script used to modify the web page, but unfortunately this script has not been made available to the public. Instead we are given the current, nearly empty page and an archive of past versions of the page to read and analyze.
The author notes on his website that “sometimes, when it is visited, a single character can be seen… it is only a ghost”, but it is worth pointing out that there is still more to the page than a single character. If we view the source code for the page, we find
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN”>
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″>
<body bgcolor=”#000000″ text=”#999999″>
This source code is still quite sparse, but it reminds us that the page is not completely devoid of data. The background color and text color are still set (if only to a simple black and white), the title remains, and the content type is still defined. In particular, we know that the contents of this page are html text, and that if any text were to appear on this page, it would be written with the Latin alphabet used in North America. Thus it seems more fitting to refer to the page as a skeleton instead, one that might be studied as an archaeologist studies ancient bones.
The analogy in which we think of the critic as an archaeologist is made even more apt by the fact that Tisselli neglects to provide the source code for the script modifying the “degenerative” page. While we have argued that this script is the core essence of the “degenerative” piece, we cannot actually study it. Instead we must dig through the available archives of page versions as if they were geological strata. With no access to the guts and flesh of a living version of the page, we are forced to study the piece indirectly by basing inferences on the fossilized relic that remains.
When analyzing the past snapshots of the “degenerative” page, the most useful to us is the original version of the page, as it is the only version in which every character is the direct result of a conscious decision made by Tisselli. Its contents give us a hint at the thesis Tisselli is arguing, as well as providing a framework within which we may place the work as a whole. It provides content for the piece while at the same time explaining the process that will manipulate it and likely will bring about its eventual demise.
Since all the text on the original page will slowly be destroyed, pieces of text and ideas that are repeated will survive the process longer, so we can guess at the relative importance to the author of a piece of text or an idea by looking at the number of times it is repeated. Analyzing repetitions of ideas and lines of text, we see that the author expresses that the page will be destroyed in many different ways throughout the piece, an idea that is clearly integral to understanding the project. We also notice, however, that the sentence “seeing is not an innocent action” is repeated four times in a row, giving the reader a good candidate for the thesis of the piece.
While it is natural to study how art affects the viewer, “degenerative” explores the opposite direction. In claiming that “seeing is not an innocent action”, Tisselli points us toward the idea that viewers affect art, an idea that he demonstrates both literally and destructively with the “degenerative” page itself. As he states in the about page, “the only hope for this page to survive is that nobody visits it. but then, if nobody does, it won’t even exist.”
Overall, “degenerative” does an excellent job of arguing Tisselli’s thesis simply through the nature of its existence, though it could still improve on other fronts in order to become literature of a slightly higher quality. Making all source code available and maintaining the website better are easy ways for the work to be improved, as I already mentioned earlier. One further thing that could be done, however, is remove the archive of past versions of the page.
Only with the archive gone would the destruction of the page be complete. Once the original page is no longer viewable, it will truly only exist as it is now, as a distant memory and a lonely skeleton that sometimes shows a single character.
 Tisselli, Eugenio. “degenerative.” . N.p.. Web. 3 Nov 2013.
“Daytripper” is the first graphic novel I have read, so it acted as an introduction to the medium for me. My first impression was that the addition of images to the more traditional novel gave the authors a powerful literary tool to work with, and I enjoyed the ways that Ba and Moon made use of it. It particular, I thought that they did a fantastic job of describing the setting and background for each chapter using almost only pictures.
In the beginning of the second chapter, for example, it is important that Ba and Moon are able to clearly define the new setting and mood of the coming pages, since they are each vastly different from the first chapter. Bras and Jorge are now at a completely different point in their lives, traveling through South America with no responsibilities left behind. The title page for the chapter is able to express this in a single image by showing their age through their appearance, mood through their body language, and location through beautiful landscape.
In the third chapter they change the setting all over again, jumping almost a decade into the future and shifting to a darker mood that is expressed by the general theme of black and blue in the opening image below.
Their opening pictures in the fourth chapter so aptly describe the situation that no words are necessary until several panels in. The iconic scene of a nervous husband stumbling through a well-rehearsed trip, reinforced by his wife’s bulging stomach in a following panel, allows us to immediately recognize the approaching birth.
Lastly, in the seventh chapter, Bras’ newfound career success is clear before it is ever stated. His name on the book cover and his confident look of one accustomed to this kind of attention give it all away.
Throughout the graphic novel the utility of images allows Ba and Moon to avoid almost all explicit exposition and speech. It allows them to focus on the quiet moments.
Talking with the scholars on Friday was very interesting, and I felt like I learned a lot about the kinds of things that media archaeologists spend time on in the course of their research. In particular, I thought it was interesting how much time they spent creating (or perhaps recreating) various forms of media in the process of studying them. Operating an old-fashioned printing press sounds fascinating, and I thought recreating the bark painting was a neat project.
I was also impressed by Media Archaeology as a literary-cultural method and especially impressed by how interdisciplinary it was. Both presenters came to the field from very different backgrounds, one having training in history and the other in art. Furthermore, between translating, recreating art, and analyzing historical ramifications, it seemed like the presenters needed to be quite knowledgeable in three different fields, possibly even more.
Given that the presenters study various media, their work naturally fits into our Augmenting Realities program in a number of different ways. Their historical approach to media is of course relevant, especially when considered alongside our study of The Difference Engine, and they also ask a number of ethical questions concerning the future of media (for example, their concerns over the origins and final destinations of minerals used in our iPhones), just as we tended to do when reading Neuromancer. The session made for a nice break from our usual routine, while at the same time giving us some useful insight into a research field relevant to Augmenting Realities.
Reading The Difference Engine made me wonder more about how exactly the digital world and computation augment reality. In the imagined London of 1855, there are no digital augmentations to reality at all, but since Babbage’s hypothetical Difference Engine (or really, his Analytical Engine, as his Difference Engine was only designed to evaluate polynomials), has become a physical reality, there are in fact what appear to be analog augmentations to reality.
While there is no “cyberspace” in the world of the Difference Engine, the presence of large-scale computation certainly has an effect on the characters’ day-to-day lives. Every citizen has associated to them a unique number, which can be used to look up an extensive personal history (6). Furthermore, given a good enough description of a person, it is possible to search for their government file and learn their number (163). The imagined analog computers are also capable of keeping a shop’s records (13), and evaluating complex models for the movements of dinosaurs (141). If we think of augmenting reality as simply adding on additional layers of information and tools with which we can better understand and interact with our world, then all of these things can certainly be thought of as augmentations to reality. The idea that this could be the case for completely analog computers is an interesting idea, one that will affect how I think about the ways the digital world augments reality.
Dark and glowing under the light
Strangely misty on the gods
You breathe dull virgins about the towers
Beware! The pleasure is fleeing
Sinister and invisible beneath the rain
I speak to luminous symbols beneath the sea
Alass, Alack! The life has vanished
Dark and glowing under the light
I squeeze hot elves among the flowers
Heavy! The devil will come
a broken promise
With what hopes
make his way
trying to remember
Lord Meriwether Penistone
In reading the debate over whether or not literature is data I was very confused, possibly because the answer to that question seems so obvious to me. If we think of a book, for example, as being a work of literature, then we have to acknowledge that literature is at least sometimes data, since we can store all the relevant information about the book on a computer*. In fact, any piece of literature that can be kept on a hard drive is data. The real question is whether we can create computer programs that provide meaningful and relevant insights about the works we feed them.
That an algorithmic analysis of literature can be fruitful has already been demonstrated by distant reading, which has already revealed, for example that the frequency of the word “the” changes throughout literary periods, or that in the 19th century, the Irish were four times more likely than the English to appear in court on trial for their lives. Insights such as these are certainly relevant to their respective fields, so they augment research in the humanities, and by extension augment reality.
*Ok, we can usually store all relevant information about the book. If the physical structure of the book is important, then things become more difficult, but I would argue that even in these special cases we either can or will soon be able to fully digitize them.