[-empyre-] Week One - Between Print and Pixels: Computationality, Post-Digital, Hybrid

Alessandro Ludovico a.ludovico at neural.it
Tue Feb 11 07:09:54 EST 2014

Hi Michael,

only a few answers to your direct questions.

> "> I think this is an interesting issue and I was curious if this has
> been the behaviour of media from the beginning? A cone transformed the
> voice, radio transformed the cone, the codex transformed the scroll
> etc. I bring this up because the 'core form' you refer to is perhaps
> already a multi-hybridised outcome of decades/centuries of
> transformation. Perhaps one of the core roles of any new medium,
> analog or digital, is to transform the old. Any thoughts to that? If
> it were true then 'digital' could be *both* a medium and a
> transformative agent."
> I'd like to take this a bit further as well, and ask Alessandro and
> Mercedes for some response to the term 'digital' and hybrid in the
> first place. If it might be taken as a medium and transformative
> agent, then what do different definitions mean for the prefix "post"?

Well *if* it'd be proven to be somehow true, then post-digital would mean not that digital is now 'assumed', but that digital has already accomplished its main transformations (although it's still an ongoing process).

> And how then does this actually relate to contemporary artistic and
> experimental practices aligned with the post-digital, or medial
> hybridity?

It can still relate in a quite similar way, only that the hybridity (declined in many various ways) would be seen as true embodiment of "post-digital", which could not then be eventually claimed for any experimental practice dealing with digital.

> The invisibility or absence of the digital itself for these practices
> is, of course, part of the problem. And as Alessandro notes, this is a
> broader question, since at our present juncture, many aesthetic
> characteristics and principles of 'old media' have seemingly been
> maintained, while a range of compound techniques supported by
> massively distributed and standardized software also appear ascendant;
> yet this is not always explicitly identified or discussed in terms of
> a recognizable and coherent new cultural vernacular.
> In his writing on the topic of the post-digital, Florian Cramer goes
> to great lengths to argue for some precision in defining the digital
> itself as a term, highlighting the fact that it is often aligned with
> a kind of high-tech kitsch, rather than described as the basic act of
> making discrete. This is a position he already developed in
> 'Exe.cut[up]able Statements' and 'Words Made Flesh', where counting,
> separating and sampling comes to define the digital as an act of
> quantification. In this case, the digital is not simply electronic,
> but potentially refers to a wide array of cultural techniques that
> involve making things discrete. In other words, the magnetic
> orientations, electrical impulses or optical arrays of contemporary
> computational technologies is merely one subset of the digital broadly
> understood. Hopefully, Florian can clarify the significance of these
> arguments later on in the month (I hope the summary is alright for
> now).
> In the meantime, there's another dynamic that is part of our
> contemporary experience of the digital that I want to highlight for
> the sake of discussion, and this involves the implementation of
> discrete measurements for the purpose of expanding surplus value or
> profit. In other words, these are the economic lineages that inform
> the contemporary digital. They exist, for example, in Charles
> Babbage's inspiration from Adam Smith's economic divisions of labor,
> but applied to the mechanization of mathematical tables in the
> development of the Difference Engine and (proposed) Analytic Engine.
> Especially pertinent would be his study of 19th century factories (a
> point of engagement for Marx), 'On the Economy of Machinery and
> Manufacture', and the argument for the digital as the 'division of
> mental labours' whereby certain tedious or monotonous tasks are
> delegated away to labor and machinery at lowered rates of pay, expense
> and care. This approach is echoed in the articulation of corporate
> systems analysis in the late 20th century with the kinds of procedural
> initiatives that Philip Agre insightfully referred to as the capture
> model. Similarly, as Bernard Stiegler might put it, there is a process
> involving the grammatization of labour here, but one in which a
> fixation on increased profit drives the systematic implementation and
> configuration of these digital infrastructures as a disassociated
> milieu.
> Perhaps these are familiar arguments, but I'm interested then in how
> the digital, understood in this way, can be read in terms of media
> theory and the idea of there being 'post'? Certainly, these procedures
> are present as a primary mode of producing knowledge in the
> development of analogue systems and what Friedrich Kittler called
> technical media. Maybe the situation today involves something like the
> simultaneous expansion and diversification of these rationalization
> techniques in specific ways? That would seem to be argument that Lev
> Manovich makes in 'Software Takes Command.' If 'Language of New Media'
> was based on outlining a formalist account of contemporary
> grammatization expressed through numerical representation, modularity,
> automation, variability and transcoding, then his new work looks to
> how such a language leads itself to far-reaching hybridization through
> the permanent extendibility of software uses and possibilities.
> Software can do this since it functions as an implementation of
> digital as meta-medium; in Alessandro's account, it infects, but does
> not entirely remediate.

Actually I think that remediation intended as Bolter’s definition: "the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms" can be seen as a lower lever of hybridisation. A video inserted in a digital publication is refashioning video, but it's not taking into account the whole "reading experience" that we have consolidated in centuries, so it's (for the better or worse) disrupting it. Hybridising a digital publication can be more effective using software and networks (eventually in an ever more extreme way than Manovich suggests) to create a unique synthesis, not just "sampled" or "calculated" from big data, but stringently "processed" through different customisable parameters. 

> These ideas are, of course, central to
> theories of computation proposed by the Church-Turing hypothesis or by
> Van Neumann, but Manovich argues Alan Kay should also be taken
> seriously for inaugurating a 'democratization' of this digital
> approach to cultural software development. This sets off a continual
> upheaval in the cultural mode of development associated with cultural
> software today, so that older media formats remain recognizable, yet
> also become mixed together into a new expressiveness. The challenge
> for Manovich's highly modernist project is to locate cultural
> techniques of the present and future within this massively moving
> revolutionary infrastructure.
> There's also this other interesting aspect of Manovich's argument
> found in the idea of performance; it's an idea that's been kicking
> around for a while in his work - for instance, in the 'delightful
> narrative' of Mario falling down a hill (when this actually happens in
> a Nintendo game is a bit lost on me btw) - but this is a perspective
> that is actually quite widespread as a premise of interaction design.
> We might think of Brenda Laurel's 'Computers as Theatre' or notions of
> staging found in HCI approaches like those advocated by Bruce
> Tognazzini, or Joanna Drucker's use of frame analysis in the context
> of interface theory. Perhaps it would be interesting to connect this
> with other theories of performativity and identity as well, or power
> in the mode of Jon McKenzie's 'Perform or Else.' Performance in this
> latter case, interestingly, would also connect to the processes of
> scripted abstraction found in corporate systems analysis and the
> mental division of labour, where 'to perform' equates with accounting
> for efficiency as value. This is a particular way of thinking through
> what the post-digital might mean that I find interesting. Indeed,
> drawing from Manovich's own interest in the research conducted at
> Xerox PARC, these various compulsions are consolidate nicely, for
> instance, in Tim Mott's idle sketches of office work routines on a bar
> napkin sometime during the late 1970s. Such hand-drawn images of
> making work discrete (they are, therefore, already digital images as a
> grammar of action) are the inspiration for the iconic representations
> of the contemporary desktop interface. They inscribe workflow analysis
> and commands such as READ, WRITE, OPEN and MOVE as the now familiar
> options PRINT, FILE, and DELETE:
> http://www.designinginteractions.com/img/chapters/ch_1.jpg
> When considered in terms of socio-political techniques, a series of
> medial dynamics might then be diagrammed as central to the concerns of
> post-digital aesthetics, things like: delegation, acceleration and
> scaleability (along with Manovich's LoNM terms). These different
> impulses, what could be read in terms of what Matthew Fuller and Andy
> Goffey call evil media, are often arranged to be extensible in the
> sense that they can broadly be assumed to function as global
> information infrastructures. With the post-digital, these are then
> investigated through scaled down characteristics or features in
> translated material states. The post-digital, therefore, exists as a
> 'small' orientation device, but it also raises questions of beauty and
> elegance, and in an exemplary way, speaks to the struggle to make
> sense of digital today in any meaningful register beyond the profit
> motive and the control of problems.
> So what's interesting to me is how the digital understood in these
> ways is rendered or characterized through its absence. Does it come to
> signify an informational sublimity, perhaps a resources as cultural
> materials, a site of excess or dumping ground, some weird array of
> stuff comparable to what Marx once described as dead labor, or perhaps
> closer to general intellect?
> That's quite a long post, but I guess I wanted to throw some more
> references into the mix. There's also a lot of connections, but these
> are just some notes so I'm not sure they are interesting or relevant
> for people. Perhaps Mercedes has some ideas to add? What, for
> instance, does the hybrid refer to for the hybrid publishing lab? What
> is the digital for you?
> -- 
> Michael Dieter
> Lecturer
> Media Studies
> The University of Amsterdam
> Turfdraagsterpad 9
> 1012 XT Amsterdam
> http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/m.j.dieter/
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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