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

Mercedes Bunz bunz at inkubator.leuphana.de
Wed Feb 12 03:45:29 EST 2014

> 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?

Now you make me laugh, Michael. I don’t think I can come up with a definition that will hold, but I guess you are not too disappointed about this. Of course, I feel much more comfortable with complicating things a little bit further. Indeed, I think we often mix up disparate levels, when we talk about a medium - the technical functionality, the social or cultural technique it enables, and how it is occupied by power/control are three different lines which cross or levels we find acting within a medium. Mixing these levels, leads us often to strange conclusions. Instead of giving a definition, I will rather take it further apart! Let’s have a look at digital book publishing and book sprints, for example. 

> 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 agree with Adam, I think the digital is both, medium and transformative agent - and I would even differentiate the last into transformative and agent. The whole messy situation bears the pressing problem which we theory people have, when we talk and analyse media. For what do we look at? A) the technical medium, or B) its transformation, the cultural technique it allows and c) how this is used by power, [or D) what Alessandro calls agency]?

If I may use the example of "Book sprints” here, as Adam is an expert for this and the innovative method of producing books he came up with has been quite inspiring for the research in our lab... Of course, one can say that “new media” like desktop publishing tools, content management, and digital on-demand-distribution have made this interesting new form of producing books collectively possible. In that sense, new digital media transforms the old paper media to enable a different production as well as different books. 

But the digital hasn’t just transformed book production, it also transformed our knowledge production, i.e. the knowledge we use when writing books - or when writing essays, or when making arguments. Due to its digitalization, knowledge can now be found via search engines, and this allows us to handle knowledge fields in a very different way: we scan them. Scanning or cursory reading becomes a new knowledge technique, besides using search engines, we often also google each other - at least this is I can observe us doing in some of our team meetings (my students love this as well). Here I can locate Alessandro’s statement, when he writes: "New media are affecting the other ones” - but this is something that happens more on level B) and C), its a social or cultural technique and how it is enacted and appropriated. Personally, I see the post-digital located here, at least at the moment. One reason for this is, I have Florian Cramer’s excellent example of students on my mind who sit together to produce a paper fanzine, and he commented that: they are doing it as if they are doing social media. 

I think A, B, and C are all on a similar level - the present - but much like Alessandro I am fascinated that there is something else, the moment/aspect he calls agency [D]. I researched this silent technical “ghost" a bit for my book (The Silent Revolution), and noticed that philosophers and thinkers (Latour, Simondon, Verbeek, Ihde, Blumenberg,  Kittler, or Nigel Thrift, or...) all were fascinated by it. I tried to explain this “agency", but as my interest was not to describe it as technical determination, I chose the term "technical gesture”. The concept is borrowed from Ferdinand Braudel, of course. He brought something similar into play, when besides short-term historic events, he focussed on the shift of long-term historical structures. Analog to this, I came up with a structure or 'schema' inherent in technology and changing with each new technical revolution. Here, I think my argument is related to Alessandro’s idea of the digital as being something more than just a new medium, seeing it more like electricity. However, I would say while this has an effect, I wouldn’t describe it as agency. It is more a structure or a pattern: industrialization, for example, is based on the construction of systems for which the process of standardization is essential. The digital, on the other hand, has a more disruptive and fragmented side so that flexibility is a far more important aspect to it than rigid norms. 

Now the question is: what would that mean for publishing, or writing?

Personally, I see some of this ‘gesture’ in my own writing. I tend to start my thinking less from an opposing argument, I find refuting someone less and less productive. Instead, I prefer to use fragments of other people’s theory and thinking as bricks to build my own argument, and find myself interested in things like “Reading Diffractively” (see Iris van der Tuin 2013: http://www.academia.edu/4679458/The_Untimeliness_of_Bergsons_Metaphysics_Reading_Diffractively_2013_ ) Or is this just a … trend? What do you guys think? 

> 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.

By the way, Michael, I don’t really get your point here, like I don’t understand the “economic lineage” but with it you seem to go somewhere very interesting. Maybe you can explain this a bit? 

> 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'? 
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