EXCAVATION TO THE SIMULACRUM

EXCAVATION TO THE SIMULACRUM.
From media ecology to data and information: lucid reality vestiges.

“Everything changes by the colour of the glass you see it through. Nothing is true. Everything is imagined. Do you know these reflections? For me sometimes the reflection is far more present than the thing being reflected.”

– Gael Garcia on The Limits of Control.

 
Imagine a world where the whole human race were to suddenly disappear, without leaving a trace of our existence; no glasses, no toilets, no flower pots or chairs, no transport tubes, no fiscal tools, nor any kind of anthropological relics or vestiges of our presence on earth. Only data, servers, cables and connections, millions and millions of terabits of information, ones and zeros decoded in pictures, videos, music, web pages, scripts. What would this decoded mix of data and information will tell about reality?

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Microsoft Azure Data Center in Chicago

 With our current way of living and its rigorous necessity of becoming digitalized we face a point in our lives where it is an impossible escape from it; digital schemes that help to organize, create, and progress. This digital way of life has been edging our daily practices towards adopting and consuming technology as a sub-medium. For example, in Manovich’s discussion on the paradoxes of digital photography, he talks about the virtual world impacting upon the real world, leading us to wonder how real the virtual-world is and how virtual the real-world is. One discourse certain to arise will be that of how technology in digital photography has changed our worldview of the real-world and how our easy access to it due to personal devices has become the hypertext of our “lucid reality.”

“Digital photographs function in an entirely different way from the traditional lens and film-based photographs. For instance, images are obtained and displayed by sequential scanning; they exist as mathematical data, which can be displayed in a variety of modes sacrificing colour, spatial or temporal resolution. Image processing techniques make us realize that any photograph contains more information than can be seen with the human eye. Techniques of 3D computer graphics make possible the synthesis of photo-realistic images yet; this realism is always partial since these techniques do not permit the synthesis of any arbitrary scene.” (Manovich, 1992).

In a fast growing technological world, humankind operates at a different pace than the developers and specialists in this field, it is evident how, nowadays, the achievement of realism is the main purpose of the upcoming visual consumption, the access to this visual hunger leaves us somewhere between the digital loss and resolution.

For example, digital artists such as Ryan Maguire with his “MoDernisT” project or Rosa Menkman with her “beyondresolution” and “about xilitla”, open up new pathways in the exploration of visual media art. It may let us see a tiny ray of light to dictate how real the virtual-world we’ve created is, and how virtual the “new” real-world we live in is.

 These daily practices are a responsive wave of technosocial progress. They are our reflection, our feedback showing us up as a virtual entity looking forward in the hopes of maximizing our basic essence so as to reproduce and mimic our basic practices in our social and cultural life. Without going too far into the epistemological perspective, the mergence of art and technology has taken us to the aesthetic position that we are in now; all representations of art can change perspectives, moods, and lives, following the idea of “art for art’s sake”. Having the premise of the humans as creative and expressive beings, the subject on how technology affects art is arguably related to this assumption of digital information besides data in our daily life in addition to our metacognition and what it tells us about reality.

 On the way to reaching a point of discovery and generating meaning in new media and video art practices, it is important to open the dialogue among the main elements that affect this technosocial wave and the activity of the actor-creator as a methodology in order to resolve these discussions operating within the descriptions and its interpretations.

  This can be achieved through inquiries that produce descriptions as a context and analyze its dynamic processes. These inquiries can be  Due to the main issues within this practice that are related to image in the digital world, it is important to pay special attention to specific topics that will describe from a wide-angle an interesting dialog which affords analysis between different networks, which, in this context, should be understood as ‘a string of actions which each participant (humans or non-humans[1]) are cm9_rosa-menkmantreated as a full-blown mediator.’ ‘It’s the trace left behind by some moving agent’ (Latour, 1987. p.p.128-132).  Such topics will include sociology, art, digital media, and media ecology, based on new objective outcomes, developing any personal practice in the same direction.

 Reality: reflections and representations.

Before generating any kind of inquiries it is important beforehand to highlight a number of factors that will provide a safe ground for producing the best possible description of what it means to become digitalized actors-creators and how we interpret this so called ‘virtual-world’ versus the ‘real-world’.

In order to avoid the task of navigating lost in a sea of possible notional assumptions about “Reality” due to its heavy load of semantic associations and theoretical traditions, the early argument addressing the matter of what we can comprehend by reality is in this case highly related to a Social Constructivism point of view connected with the substance of Berger and Luckmann’s understanding that human development is socially situated. In the same way, knowledge is constructed through interaction with others.

What do Berger and Luckmann allude to by ‘reality’ when they talk about ‘the social construction of reality’? What is socially constructed? In brief, the word ‘reality’ is mainly a shorthand for ‘what is regarded as reality’, ‘what is socially viewed as reality’, and ‘what is taken for granted as reality by the ordinary members of society’, so in this case this way to understand sociology studies the constructed character of what human beings mean by “reality” (Berger, et. al 1966 p.59). There is two crucial basis of inspiration from which Berger and Luckmann derived their sociological concept of ‘reality’. The most easily recognizable is Schutz’s work on ‘multiple realities’. Schutz seized the idea of a ‘theory of various orders of reality’ from William James’s chapter on the perception of reality in the Principles of Psychology; he was particularly intrigued by a question posed by James: Under what circumstances do we think things real?. From there Schutz developed the concept of ‘finite provinces of meaning’ upon which an individual could confer an ‘accent of reality’. The other source of inspiration, which is as essential, is W.I. Thomas’s maxim: ‘If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences’, which afterward famously labeled as the ‘Thomas theorem’.

 Prior to The Social Construction, Berger insisted on the importance of Thomas’s concept regarding the ‘definition of the situation’ for sociological analysis. This concept, Berger said, implies that ‘a social situation is what it is defined to be by its participants… For the sociologist’s purposes, reality is a matter of definition’. Berger observed in the Thomas theorem an idea that should be advanced:

Thomas’ well-known dictum on the ‘real consequences’ of the social definition was presumably intended and has been generally understood as intending, to say that once ‘reality’ has been defined, people will act as if it were indeed so. To this important proposition must be added an understanding of the realizing (that is, reality-producing) potency of social definition.

 The instruments through which something is conceived as reality, and the process through which the social world is built, are intimately intertwined. What people consider being real is the product of the society they inhabit, and the society in which people live is constructed by their own activity.

In Edgar Morin’s discussion of what he calls the “collective unconscious”, he simultaneously explores the set of myths, shapes, motives or figures that exist in this specific lapse of time and space, and how these work effectively as a collective social “mind”. It is being operated, both in its real dimension and its imaginary dimension (that is feedback – transfers, and projections-), a quasi-religious way, by all the media; identified in consumer products and personalities. Visualizing a set of symbols and concepts in memory and imagination in a variety of individuals belonging to a particular community. (Morin, 1983)  All these people entering into a single consciousness, wherein they share these symbols, reinforces the sense of community and identification of a specific discourse that we take for granted, as Berger and Luckmann allude to.

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 This understanding of reality draws a fine path to the actor-network theory, where those social relations are bound together with already accepted participants called ‘social actors’ who are members of a ‘society’, it traces the social as associations through many non-social entities which might become participants later; if pursued systematically, this tracking may end up in a shared definition of a common world; collective. (Latour, 1987 p.247) it expands the relation between the capacity of nonhumans to act or participate in systems or networks.

This understanding of reality draws a fine path to the actor-network theory, where those social relations are bound together with already accepted participants called ‘social actors’ who are members of a ‘society’, it traces the social as associations through many non-social entities which might become participants later; if pursued systematically, this tracking may end up in a shared definition of a common world; collective. (Latour, 1987 p.247) it expands the relation between the capacity of nonhumans to act or participate in systems or networks.

 One of the main objectives of my project is to work and understand the concept of “representation” of these reality reflections of reality represented in the mirror of the new media world. Sometimes, such mirrors do not reflect the reality that we wish to believe in, whilst at other times they do. Occasionally, we suppose that these reflections are a construction of a reality we imagine to have. The issue of realism is intrinsically linked to that of representation, in the history of representation, actors-creators have focused the problem of creating a convincing illusion with in a single image, “whether a painting, film frame, or a view seen from somebody window, where temporal montages became the dominant paradigm for the visual simulation of non-existent spaces.” (Manovich, 154)

 So, what does all this representations-new media tell us about this “lucid-reality”? Following the constructionist paradigm, Foucault reinforces the emphasis in cultural understandings and shared meanings, producing sense and knowledge through a whole network of relationships (discourse) rather than just the meaning of a text. (Ashbury, et al., 2005) These productions of dialogues can be established and provide a common idea an “instant reality”. Further more representation is not only about viewing our selves, but also about viewing others. Its a way of denying individuality by assuming it into a particular stereotype.

 Media Ecology: media as an environment.

Applying the ecology metaphor to media can be interpreted in two complementary ways: the media as environments or the media as species that interact with each other (Scolari, 2012). In the former case, researchers analyse how technologies create environments that affect the people who use them. As McLuhan (2003) puts it, the effects of technology “do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance” (p. 31). For example, television “has changed our sense-lives and our mental processes” (p. 439). In the latter case―that is, the media as species that live in the same ecosystem―the analysis focuses on the relationships between media. This second approach can be identified in McLuhan’s tetrads (McLuhan & McLuhan, 1992) and in many passages of his books, especially Understanding Media (2003).

These discussions on new media opens an interesting dialog on how affects human perception, understanding, feeling and Value (Postman, 1970), and how technology alters sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and with out any resistance (McLuhan, 1964) and Here is where the environmental dimension of media ecology is found: The media creates an “environment” that surrounds the individuals and models their perception and cognition (Scolari, 2010).

We can say then that each new medium is born from the recombination of a series of previous technological devices, languages, and production/consumption grammars. From this perspective, the new media is an interface that structures various material and symbolic components, personal experiences, and collective meanings. If we think of the human-computer interface as another medium, for example, we can find an “immersive” experience of traditional cultural objects such as books and movies. (Manovich, p.90) Biological species usually do not interbreed, and when they do their offspring are infertile. On the contrary, technospecies normally combine in a new interface to produce new technologies: for example, Gutenberg printing combined a wine press, mobile types, and paper technology. The same may be said about Apple’s iPhone: it extended the iPod network of components, integrating into a single device mobile phone technology, touchscreens, accelerometers, a microphone, WiFi technology, a digital camera, and a series of games and applications specially designed for the new media.

twitter2010We find ourselves immersed in the situation where the media and technology have reached the point of becoming nothing more than the reflection of our reality. New technologies have often burst upon society; they change our way of seeing the world. For example, “our sense of spatial and temporal orientation has changed dramatically in recent years, prompted by new technologies of surveillance, tracking, and targeting. One of the symptoms of this transformation is the growing importance of aerial views: overviews, Google Maps views, satellite views. We are growing increasingly accustomed to what used to be called a Gods-eye view. On the other hand, we also notice the decreasing importance of a paradigm of visuality that long dominated our vision: linear perspective.” (Hito Steyerl, 2012).  Not only our vision but our way of interpreting life; not as a pellucid mirror of reality but as a mix between semiotics, language, narrative and a technology that recodifies our messages. New technology has at times challenged media in subtle or explicit ways to change age-old practices and at other times presented threats to the viability of traditional media or media practices.

Nevertheless, Pavlik (2008) points out that it is important to note that technology does not determine the nature and future of media. People, policies, and politics often have a greater influence in shaping media, be it analog or otherwise. Economics similarly has a profound impact on the nature of the media.

 These conversations between new mediums, information, interior connections, relationships and transfer of energy within networks of matters makes the perfect field to create and explore the technology as the physical apparatus where my work can find a form that attempts to undertake these dialogs; an excavation of these unknown places where humans collaborates with non-humans, a place where the technology push forward our ways of doing things like the series of paintings by Evan Roth, based on the gestures we make with touchscreens; A series of gestures that no human being has made before. A series of gestures entirely mediated by the technology and its interface, today, the subject of the information society is engaged in even more activities during a typical day: imputing and analysing data, running simulations, searching the internet, playing computer games, watching stream video, listening to music online, trading stocks, and so on. The inquiry of performing all these different activities and interactions with the human-computer interface through the GUI, has become a key semiotic code of the information society as well as its metatool.

There’s something that’s happening behind our eyes that are changing our behavior in order to engage better with these devices and new mediums, to engage better with these technologies. When we react like this and changes our way of communicating, the way we write, the way we used to do things, or just invent different motions, physically, we’re enacting our interactions with the technologies. I think this is the treasure at the bottom of this excavation, creating art not just out of the visual aesthetics of it but actually of human behavior, as we work with these mediums.

 Evidently we design technology and its interfaces to respond to our basic nature, but actually, this technology wants to be like us, and the more we interact with it, the more we want to have a similarity with it. We’re going through a stage of this ecological situation of incredible uncertainty and a huge ethical negotiation of how technology and we see the world and how that changes. But the principle is that we now live in a world that we allocate with the reflections that we share with the technology, to some extent that we’re building, but it to a huge magnitude is also shaping the way we behave. And the object to keep in mind is that we want this. We want to live together with these new beings, this new form, and this new culture.

 We want to bury the virtual of the reality.

[1] Computers, not seeing as automations, but actors with turns of agency.


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Barthes, Roland (1977), Rhetoric of the image. In Image/music/text, 32–51. New York: Hilland Wang. 

Berger, P. L. and T. Luckmann (1966), The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books

Ebner, J. 2011, Hito Steyerl »In Free Fall, Springerin, , no. 1, pp. 66.

Jankowski, N.W. and Prehn, O. (eds) (2001), Community media in the information age: Perspectives and prospects. United States: Hampton Press.

Latour, B. (1987), Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Milton Keynes, England: Open University Press.

Latour, B. (2007), Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford University Press, USA.

Lev Manovich, (1992) Assembling Reality: Myths of Computer Graphics, AFTERIMAGE 20, no. 2 (September),pp. 12-14.

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 Manovich, L. (2007), Cultural analytics: Analysis and visualization of large cultural data sets. New York: Software Studies Initiative, City University of New York. Retrieved from http://www.manovich.net/cultural_analytics.pdf

McKinley, J. (2015). “Critical Argument and Writer Identity: Social Constructivism as a Theoretical Framework for EFL Academic Writing” (PDF). Critical Inquiry in Language Studies 12 (3): 184–207. [Accessed 16 May 2016].

McLuhan, M. (2005), Understanding media: The extensions of man. London: Routledge.

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Morin, E. & Coppay, F. 1983, Social Paradigms of Scientific Knowledge ,SubStance, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 3-20.

Scolari, C. A. (2008), Hipermediaciones. Elementos para una teoría de la comunicación digital interactiva [Hypermediations. Elements for a theory of digital interactive communication]. Barcelona, Spain: Gedisa.

Pavlik, J.V. (2008), Media in the digital age. New York: Columbia University Press.

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