[-empyre-] Welcome to October on empyre!

Patrick Keilty p.keilty at utoronto.ca
Sun Oct 4 06:06:30 AEDT 2015

Welcome to October 2015 on –empyre soft-skinned space:

Designing Compulsion

Moderated by Patrick Keilty (CA/ US) with invited guests Gordon Calleja
(MT/ DK), Jacob Gaboury (US), Mathew Gagne (CA/ LB), James Hodge (US),
Lilly Irani (US), Ava Lew (CA), Shaka McGlotten (US/ DE), Natasha Dow
Schüll (US), Katie Shilton (US), John Stadler (US), Luke Stark (CA/ US),
and Henry Warwick (CA/US).

Week 1 (October 4 – 10): Katie Shilton (US) and Henry Warwick (CA)

Week 2 (October 11 – 17): Gordon Calleja (MT/ DK) and James Hodge (US)

Week 3 (October 18 – 24): Jacob Gaboury (US), Matthew Gagne (CA/ LB), and
Ava Lew (CA)

Week 4 (October 25 – 31): Lilly Irani (US), Shaka McGlotten (US/ DE), John
Stadler (US), and Luke Stark (CA/ US)

Welcome to the October discussion, “Designing Compulsion.” The psychologist
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the term “flow” to describe the states
of absorption in which attention is so narrowly focused on an activity that
a sense of time fades, along with the troubles and concerns of day-to-day
life. While “flow” for Csikszentmihalyi is largely life affirming,
restorative, and enriching, he also acknowledges that flow is “potentially
addictive,” inviting dependency to suspend negative affective states, such
as boredom, anxiety, and confusion, or what he calls “psychic entropy.” He
regards such dependency as something that derives from individuals’
propensities, rather than from any specific properties of a given flow
activity. Compulsive forms of flow, he argues, stem from the motivation
behind it rather than the medium facilitating it: whether flow turns
backwards or not has to do with its subjects rather than its objects.
However, as Natasha Dow Schüll points out, to characterize compulsion “as a
condition of subjective impasse is apt but incomplete.” Instead, compulsive
flow is a condition that develops out of a sustained interaction between
subject and object; both sides of the interaction matter. Compulsion
follows a meditational logic: it cannot be located discretely in the
subject or the object, but rather in the dynamic interaction between the
two. This month’s discussion departs from Csikszentmihalyi’s understanding
of “flow” by examining how the design of digital and video technologies
occasion absorptive behavior in human-machine exchanges.

Gambling, video games, and online pornography – a trifecta in the discourse
around the panic and dangers of new media – are only three examples that
media scholars have examined to understand how designers and programmers
make strategic calculations behind algorithms, ergonomics, and graphic user
interfaces that seek to intensify the traffic between human and machine. In
her recent book Addiction by Design, Schüll examines the designers,
marketers, and managers of penny slot machines in Las Vegas to argue that
human actors bear particular accountabilities when it comes to
human-machine exchanges, especially those humans in a position to configure
the terms of such exchanges. In the process, Schüll reveals, remarkably,
that the goal of the machine gambler is not to win, but simply to keep
playing. “Neither control nor chance, nor the tension between the two,
drives their play,” writes Schüll. Instead, players want to be absorbed by
a meditational logic between human and machine that “suspends time, space,
monetary value, social roles, and sometimes one’s very sense of existence.”
Similarly, in her study of children’s video game software, Mitzuko Ito
explores the counterintuitive association that arises between
intentionality through control-leading features and losing oneself in the
game. In his study of online digital games, Gordon Caelleja observes that
what begins as an autonomous act “becomes part of automatic actions and
reactions of the doer, resulting in a loss of a sense of self.” In my own
research on online pornography, I am interested how the design of databases
and graphic user interfaces interact to enable repeating loops of bodily
inputs and outputs that require no complex cognition, allowing viewers to
settle into Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow.” In such a flow, the goal of finding
satisfaction allows the viewer to rationalize the pleasure (and
frustration) of browsing. To imagine the goal is to project into a moment
of perfect satisfaction – obtaining the perfect image, one completely
adequate to the viewer’s desire. Yet nothing can compare to an imagined
perfect image, leaving every image inadequate, and so the absorptive search

What does the intensity of traffic between humans and machine tell us about
the relationship between design and experience, compulsion and control? In
what ways does the design of new technologies transform us as subjects and
alter our subjectivity?


<empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>







Patrick Keilty is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information at the
University of Toronto and Instructor in the Bonham Centre for Sexual
Diversity Studies there. Professor Keilty works at the intersection of
media studies, technology studies, and information studies. His primary
teaching and research field is digital studies, with a particular focus on
visual culture, pornography, new media art, metadata and database logic,
database cinema, critical theory, and theories of gender, sexuality, and
race. His monograph project, provisionally titled Database Desire, engages
the question of how our engagements with labyrinthine qualities of database
design and algorithmic logic mediate aesthetic objects, create new
cinematic techniques, and structure sexual desire in ways that abound with
expressive possibilities and new narrative and temporal structures. More at

Guest Discussants:

Gordon Calleja is Associate Professor and the Head of the Institute of
Digital Games at the University of Malta and visiting Associate Professor
at the IT University of Copenhagen's Center for Computer Games Research,
which he headed for four years before moving to Malta. Gordon has a
background in Game Studies, Literary Theory and Media Studies. His current
research focuses on digital games and addresses three broad areas: game
ontology, narrative in game environments and player experience.  The latter
is the focus of his recently released book by MIT Press: "In-Game : From
Immersion to Incorporation" which investigates what makes digital games
engaging to players and a re-examination of the concept of “immersion”.
Supplementing his written work, Gordon also designs boardgames and digital
games.  The first digital game he published is "Will Love Tear Us Apart", a
game adaptation of Joy Division's cult track.  WLTUA has received
international acclaim for its unique game design approach and aesthetics
and has been covered extensively by publications such as Rolling Stone
Magazine, Spin, Fact, Consequence of Sound, PC Gamer, Polygon, Kotaku and
Kill Screen. His recent board game, Posthuman, deals with genetic
modification and speciation and will be out in stores from November 2015.

Jacob Gaboury is Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Visual Culture at
Stony Brook University and Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for
the History of Science. His work engages the history and critical theory of
digital media through the fields of visual culture, media archaeology, and
queer theory. He is currently finishing a manuscript on the archaeology of
computer graphics titled Image Objects and beginning a book on the queer
history of computation titled On Uncomputable Numbers. His work has been
previously published or is forthcoming in the Journal of Visual Culture,
Media-N, and Camera Obscura.

Mathew Gagne is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the
University of Toronto. Mathew's dissertation research examines the impact
of globally networked gay dating technologies on queer intimacy, sexuality,
and subjectivity in Beirut, Lebanon. This research focuses on the
relationship between sex, fantasy/reality, and information within digitally
mediated intimate lives. His work has previously been published in the
Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, and the websites Jadaliyya.com and

James J. Hodge is Assistant Professor of digital media studies in the
department of English and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities at
Northwestern University. He studies comparative media aesthetics, digital
media, media theory, and cinema studies. He has published articles and
reviews on Spike Jonze's Her, the critical legacy of phenomenology, and
digital aesthetics. His book project Animate Opacity: Digital Technics and
the Aesthetics of History argues for the significance of animation for the
expression of historical temporality in the era of digital media.

Lilly Irani is an Assistant Professor of Communication & Science Studies at
University of California, San Diego. Her work examines and intervenes in
the cultural politics of high tech work. She is currently writing a book on
cultural politics of innovation and development in transnational India,
entitled Entrepreneurial Citizenship: Innovators and their Others in Indian
Development. She is also the co-founder and maintainer of digital labor
activism tool Turkopticon.  She has published her work at New Media &
Society, South Atlantic Quarterly, and Science, Technology & Human Values,
as well as at SIGCHI and CSCW. Her work has also been covered in The
Nation, The Huffington Post, andNPR. Previously, she spent four years as a
User Experience Designer at Google. She has a B.S. and M.S. in Computer
Science, both from Stanford University and a PhD from UC Irvine in

Ava Lew is a PhD student in the iSchool at the University of Toronto. Her
research interests revolves around the development, uses and effects of
information communication technologies as part of larger socio-technical
systems. With a background in communication, she has conducted research on
website development and relationship building with users. Ava’s current
research entails examining the design, use and role of human-to-computer
and human-to-human interactions, as mediated by the user interface, as well
as to what degree such interactivity affect group collaboration and
individual engagement in social causes or politically-oriented activities.

Shaka McGlotten is Associate Professor of media|society|&the arts at
Purchase College-SUNY. He is an artist and anthropologist who works on
digital cultures and screen media. His writing on race, sex, and technology
appear in journals and anthologies. He is the author of Virtual Intimacies:
Media, Affect, and Queer Sociality and co-editor of Black Genders and
Sexualities, as well as Zombie Sexuality.

Natasha Dow Schüll is Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and
Communication at NYU. Her recent book, ADDICTION BY DESIGN: Machine
Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press 2012), draws on extended
research among compulsive gamblers and the designers of the slot machines
they play to explore the relationship between technology design and the
experience of addiction. Her next book, KEEPING TRACK: Personal
Informatics, Self-Regulation, and the Data-Driven Life (Farrar, Straus, and
Giroux, forthcoming 2016), concerns the rise of digital self-tracking
technologies and the new modes of introspection and self-governance they
engender. Her documentary film, BUFFET: All You Can Eat Las Vegas, has
screened multiple times on PBS and appeared in numerous film festivals.

Katie Shilton is an assistant professor in the College of Information
Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research explores
ethics and policy for the design of information collections, systems and
technologies. Current research projects include an investigation of ethics
in mobile application development; a project focused on the values and
policy implications of Named Data Networking, a new approach to Internet
architecture; surveys of consumer privacy expectations in the mobile data
ecosystem; and investigating researchers’ ethical beliefs and practices
when using online open data sets. Her work has been supported by a Google
Faculty Award and several awards from the U.S. National Science Foundation,
including an NSF CAREER award. Katie received a B.A. from Oberlin College,
a Master of Library and Information Science from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in
Information Studies from UCLA.

John Stadler is a PhD candidate in the Program in Literature at Duke
University. He is currently writing his dissertation, titled “Pornography
and the Everyday,” which tracks how pornography’s saturation into everyday
life has altered the manner in which pleasure is produced, received, and
spoken of. His recent articles have appeared in Jump Cut and Art and

Luke Stark is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Media, Culture, and
Communication at New York University under the supervision of Helen
Nissenbaum. Hid dissertation project, “That Signal Feeling: Emotion and
Interaction Design from Smartphones to the ‘Anxious Seat,’” explores how
psychological tools and techniques have been built into the interaction
design of the mobile digital device we use on a daily basis through a
genealogy of human mood tracking from the 19th century to the present.
Focusing on affect and emotion, his broader scholarship explores the
changing nature of human subjectivity in the computational age. Some of his
other projects examine the links between emotion and online privacy; the
connection between values and design in digital information systems and
coding/hacker/maker practice; everyday affect, user experience design, and
the "on-command" economy; and the cultural and political potential of
emoticons and emoji. He is currently in the preliminary stages of
developing his second major project, a history of what I call "visceral

Henry Warwick is an artist, composer, writer, and assistant professor in
the RTA School of Media at Ryerson University in Toronto, and research
fellow at the Infoscape Lab at Ryerson. He has an MFA from Goddard College
in Interdisciplinary Art, and a PhD in Communications from the European
Graduate School. To keep himself sane, he composes electronic music and
DJ’s an eclectic radio show.

Patrick Keilty
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Information
Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies
University of Toronto
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