Dissertation Draft: How does the information overload of online media affect the user’s capacity for social interaction?
by Beauchamp Art
Benjamin Samuel Beauchamp
BA7: Final Project 1: Research, development and reflection
How does the information overload of online media affect the user’s capacity for social interaction?
The information overload threatens to take humanity hostage, drawing in peers through social media, developing Stockholm Syndrome, creating inertia and apathy. The isolated trepidations of “weapons of communication” [Virilio, 1983: 177] generate paranoid self-regulating propaganda and manufactured consent. [Chomsky, 1997: 18] The Internet is a communal apartment of the Stalin era: “no privacy, everybody spies on everybody else. […] A giant garbage site for the information society, with everybody dumping their used products of intellectual labour and nobody cleaning up. […] A new, Mass Panopticon” [Manovich, 2009] As a billion Big Brothers form an international neighbourhood watch; rather than becoming a cozy village “we are instead retreating into an electronic Tower of Bable, a global skyscraper. [Shenk, 1997: 111-112]
Posting photos of familiar faces and banal updates, users further the “spiral of silence” [Wilson, 2014] for fear of exclusion. Offering inconsequential Facebook posts, Instagram pictures and microblogs; 140 characters of Twitter fame; a million views instantly forgotten. The Feed is fed by the overload of everyday micro-communications. This dehumanised meta-data becomes a third-party portrait, sold to governments and marketers; exclusively feeding back familiarised socialise propaganda “to tame the bewildered herd” [Chomsky, 1997: 18].
Fattened by the gluttonous consumption of Mediator’s benign, unprovocative content, the user is made sluggish. Spectacle creates apathy; frustration at the inability to actively engage, condemned to minor, passive involvement. “Why bother to be informed, […] if one’s own potential impact on society can seem so negligible?” [Ritchin, 2013: 29] Responsibilities are surrendered in the face of “data smog” [Schenk, 1997: 16]. People are left alone; presenting an acceptable front, inanely babbling in merry innocence. Disembodied disenfranchisement of a paralysed populous lets life rush by, acting only as mouths to chatter and consume; processing Mother Media’s spoon-fed data. “Life becomes habit […] self-fulfilling […] addictive” [Braidotti, 2013: 134] and easily exploitable. This consumption must be criticised to disrupt the flow of banality and misinformation, or individuals face becoming sub-human devouring machines, chewing a lifeless cud.
Throughout ‘Media’ refers Mass-Media organisations, and ‘media’ referring to broadcast mediums and materials through which meaning is exchanged.
This essay has been constructed using thematic word-associations and a distilled overload of information, written non-linearly in order to reflect the chaotic consortium of the subject matter.
“Everywhere we look, we find information overload.” [Lanham, 2006: 6]
In his lecture, Jaygo Bloom described artists as responsible for “intercepting the flow of perception. […] Making the unconscious, conscious, and the synetic process of making the familiar strange and the strange familiar.” [Bloom, 2014] Because of greater mediums abundance, art’s influence as “translator of experience,” [McLuhan, 1964: 242] may proliferate further. Directly critising media requires self-awareness of mediation and reformed intent; there is no innocent eye, no pure computer; even traditional artists perceive the world through existing representational schemes. [Manovich, 2001: 117]
Current technological media lack omnipresence. Severing from the server’s constant remediations remains possible. Representations may nevertheless undermine human perception, whilst furthering it. The fool’s play imitates true narrative, “like the painting of a sorrow, a face without a heart.” [Shakespeare: 1161] When overloaded with information; memory becomes a politicised phenomenological issue; manipulating media means controlling knowledge, thereby dominating people. Unsurprisingly “efforts to confuse, misdirect, mislead, or confound a pubic are part of today’s world.” [Advertising Age, 1986: 17]
By making particular reference to: Manovich, McLuhan and Shenk, and the works of Elahi, Evans, Stelarc, Leonard, González-Torres, and Roth; this essay focuses on information overabundance and attention austerity; the knowledge deficit of the Feed of constantly updating websites, and “technologically mediated communication and knowledge transfer.” [Braidotti, 2013: 152] Examining the phenomenological ramifications of overload on individuals and how artists respond to the “attention economy”. “Information is not in short supply, […] we are drowning in it. […] Attention […] has become our scare resource.” This concerns art because it is the discipline that studies how attention is allocated, how capital is created and traded. [Lanham, 2006: xi-xii]
News, Feed, Glut
News: Overload as Censorship
Since the end of the 2000s, all software is becoming social software, [Manovich, 2013: 27-28] in conjunction with the era of cheap and ubiquitous cameras, [Ritchin, 2013: 128] this has meant that there is a particular abundance of social photography in popular circulation, contributing as many images in two minutes as were made in the entire 19th Century to informational glut, including some 3,400 per second to Facebook alone. [Caridad, 2012] Technological mechanics will not be deconstructed here, but the effects of Media overproduction shall be examined to expose the means of distributing decentralised data, in the technological apartheid and information oligopoly.
The spread of humankind’s most valuable commodity: “common information and shared understanding” [Shenk, 1997: 121] through language and technology allows greater information exchange amongst expanding group than appropriating demonstrable skills. Prometheus’s flames lap from the tongues of man, techne’s charcoals enabled man to inscribe knowledge into society, and for generational technological progress. However, the perpetual data feed is the electric light of pure information [McLuhan, 1964: 8] that may never be switched off. The web is hyper-saturated with meaning, cumulating in a mess of visual noise, emanating obscured information.
The overload may be a tool for censorship. If individuals can be told what to see or read, then it follows that they can be told what to say or think. Gathering news from social media increases susceptibility to its automated mediation. Such “algorithmic filtering could potentially mute important stories.” [Bell, 2014] The commercial potential of stories has always influenced its publicity and determined newsworthiness alongside the service to the public interested, but when the process of editing is automated based on sage data pattern analysis. Bell goes on to describe the most powerful distributor of news as the “algorithm governing how items are displayed to the billion active users on Facebook,” [Bell, 2014] not News Corp trucks or Tesco. The personalised Newsfeed is a misleading description for the format extensively used by Facebook, Twitter, and other social media; as “news is something somebody doesn’t want printed: all else is advertising.” [Yellow Pages, 2013: 1] It may function as “the front page in cyberspace,” [Richten, 2013: 146] but it could be seen to be tailoring fact to fit users, and not an source useful source of knowledge, but it is rich in meta-data; “used by people with socio-economic status & political knowledge [Brundidge, 2008: 154] thereby over-informing the privileged, and neglecting the genuine need for shared understanding, to be shared and managed thoughtfully, transforming it into universal knowledge.” [Shenk, 1997: 170]
With overabundance of news stories being transmitted internationally, there is a genuine need to rely on journalistic forts to prioritise the overload, as “information is not in short supply […] attention is the commodity is in short supply.” [Lanham, 2006: xi] The mass distribution of images is susceptible to the disturbance of simulation as a product of the mediations that fuel the overload. As photo-editing software is widely available, the digitised image can “undergo a whole repertoire of transformations.” [Bolter, 2000: 139] Unreality may be perpetuated by visual misinformation. Simulation may become indistinguishable from reality through indifferent “substituting signs of the real for the real itself.” [Baudrillard, 1983: 4] The shadows on the wall of Plato’s Cave are compressed into a flat simulacrum, which may be readily accepted as the authentic when flooded with images.
Artificial imagery ascertains realism through experienced authenticity; “synthetic computer-generated imagery” becomes “a realistic representation of a different reality.” [Manovich, 2001: 202] Given the glut of news, it becomes easier to falsify history, as Chomsky notes; “The picture of the world that’s presented to the public has only the remotest relation to reality.” [Chomsky, 1997: 37] Evidence of modifying history can be found in the 2009 incident of newspaper Yated Ne’eman digitally altering “photographs of Israeli government in order to replace to female ministers with pictures of men.” [Weber, 2013: 34] Readily available news allows itself to undergo a process of altercation comparable to Soviet era ‘unpersoning’, removing undesirables from photos. Such “manipulated images can manipulate pre-existing memories” as a 2007 study from Padua University suggests. [Colours, 2013: 38] By filing newspapers with non-stories, banality, and a plastic reality, the Media may detract from unpopular stories; the overload is thereby politicised, and apathy is create to “to tame the bewildered herd” [Chomsky, 1997: 18]
Feed: Pervasive Computing
Google Glass may inevitably be used as a further advertising and news media, as such technologies become integrated into the networks of common living, then constant heads-up-displays may then be engineered around. Escaping mass mediated images becomes decreasingly possible as everyday dependence on them grows. Technologies change, but the idea of pervasive media implanted in the visual field may prevail; as a compulsive socialising, advertising and information platform, though this may simply adhere to the notion; “the vastness of the ever-expanding social-media archives feeds the perception that there is always something, somewhere of potential interest if one one is willing to spend the time looking for it.” [Richten, 2013: 13] What pervasive computing enables may be inescapable banality.
Nevertheless, such devices may increase the efficiency of human operations, enabling the user to instantly recollect any index online data, reliving the memory, allowing other forms of knowledge to be developed. Much as electric light has replaced man-made fire. A reliance on the collective consciousness we sites like Google and Wikipedia mimics the knowledge of the tribe, as a means to access greater bodies of information. However, this system also means misinformation may be more easily distributed, though its pervasiveness could be undermined by large scale cross-checking. The overload of information may be used effectively as a means of creating informational discord. A ‘Twitter Bomb’ may be used to create a “deliberate flood of thousands of tweets and hash tags about the same topic, sent from multiple accounts,” [Colours, 2013 60] squander unpopular opinion, drowning them in a sea of premium irrelevance.
In the digital environment, image-based communication is nearly as banal, instinctive and pervasive as talking. [Richten, 2013: 11] Such is the eye’s limited capacity that is is impossible to efficient dil the vast number of images, videos, and updates created and shared by humans and machines. [Bell, 2014] Though never a transparent window, the lone photo could evoke a seeing-like response, which becomes collective when published. [Ritchin, 2013: 9] However, “in the daily flood of photographs” the “noeme ‘That has been’ is not repressed […] but experienced with indifference.” [Barthes, 1980: 77] What remains unseen elicits a banality comparable to the apathy of the overload. Combining social media with Google Glass could create a scenario in which “every face in a crowd [is] rendered recognisable.” [Bell, 2014] Does familiarity have a place in such a circumstance? As the digital realm is still separated from face-to-face encounters by the need for media interfaces, than more value may be placed on physical encounters, as they may appear more ‘real’ than the representational reality, even if they are phenomenologically similar. However, current web interfaces remind the user of the presence of a media as they select and follow links, [Bolter, 2000: 226] so the potential for immediacy is not yet apparent.
Moreover, such ubiquitous computing carry “the possibility of total surveillance.” [Bolter, 2000: 218] Not only may all faces appear equally familiar, but they are all present before the public, so may be conducive to self-regulating behaviour.
Fig. 1 Elahi, Hasan. (2008) Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project.
Self-Surveillance: The Spiral of Silence
Surveillance artist Hasan Elahi exposed his life fulling in his work, by allowing every movement to be tracked, accompanied by images of every location and interaction, the deluge of data becomes meaningless due to its sheer volume. [Farman, 2011: 70] Similarly, Ai Wei Wei conducted a auto-documentary-portrait. Whereas Wei’s piece dealt with the constant surveillance he faced at the hands of the Communist government in his position as an activist-artist, Elahi’s ongoing project addresses the ongoing monitoring experienced by a member of the public in their everyday environment, so could be seen as more telling of the overload of data that can be broadcast by individuals, producing their own info-glut.
Elahi said, “The reason information has value is because no one else has access to it. The secrecy applied to the information is what makes it valuable. So, by me disclosing this to everybody, [it becomes worthless].” [Elahi, 2008] Self-publishing creates a paradigm shift that allows the observed subject to reassert self-control. Much as Madonna wears the same clothes in public every day to deflate the market value of paparazzi photographs. [Colours, 2013: 18] By making access to information universal, as with any resource, it becomes decommodified; invaluably worthless. The display of the work across multiple walls of screens reflects the pervasive nature of both surveillance and representational computing. The multi-facet viewing “posits multitasking as the social and cognitive norm.” [Manovich, 2001: 210]
An overload of social communications may hinder accurate self-reflection in online discourse; as a recent report from Pew Research Center suggests “people were far less likely to express disagreement with prevailing views in social media than in other contexts.” This causality towards self-censorship [Hampton, 2013] is described as the “spiral of silence”, positing minority opinions go unexpressed in groups due to the fear of social isolation or reprisal. As this scenarios spills-out from mediated forums, into in-person contexts [Wilson, 2014] of “a world filled with ‘citizen paparazzi,” not only can individuals not expect privacy, [Colours, 2013: 22] but also a decline of self-authenticity due to the “self-imposed totalitarianism” [Chomsky, 1997: 76] of crippling mass communication; dominated by social media, constantly surveilled by peers. [Petridis, 2014] “Online social networking therefore illustrates that surveillance – as a mutual, empowering subjectivity building practice – is fundamentally social.” [Albrechtslund, 2008] Although socially self-regulating, such surveillance is not necessarily initiated by the People, limiting “ourselves in the name of consensus, and the quiet life,” [Wilson, 2014] commercial-enterprises like Facebook, sustain placid complacency to further marketing gains; which position profits at the centre. Such social media may ironically be described as “Post-anthropocentric technologies” [Braidotti, 2013: 127] the human is a secondary product; their meta-databases are the primary.
Fig. 2 Cécile B. Evans (2013) AGNES.
Cécile B. Evans’s (2013) AGNES is the name given to a spam-bot commissioned to inhabit the Serpentine Gallery website, which engages the user in a conversation lead by multiple-choice questions, presenting them with various time-dependent associative narratives, creating the automaton’s train-of-thought dialogue with the user by pulling information from online facilities, including Google, Wikipedia, in addition to using information from peer discussions. To, as Evans described in a workshop event last year, create a series of “uncanny juxtapositions” [Evans, 2013] between online objects, to offer the audience a form of live video editing, an algorithmic performance of images, text, and audio offer to the user to navigate through. As “making a choice involves a moral responsibility. By passing on these choices to the user, the author also passes on the responsibility to represent the world and the human condition in it. [Manovich, 2001: 44] By involving the audience in the creation of the piece and the AGNES’ narrative avenue, Evans open the piece up to the user, giving them a sense of control, within a fine scope of limited parameters; giving them both an illusion of progress and of freedom.
H. G. Wells envisioned an authoritative, continually updated world encyclopaedia of knowledge as an electronic ‘World Brain’, alive, growing, “changing continually under revision, extension, and replacement from the original thinkers in the world everywhere.” [Shenk, 1997: 64-65] It could be argued that Wikipedia, for all its faults, fulfils this role, at least in part. However, the organic mental structures of the brain is not being replicated artificially, but through selection by association, rather than by indexing, it may yet be mechanised, [Bush, 1945] in the form of universal search engines, particularly Google. AGNES could be seen as a satire of topological organisation by association, leaping madly from step to step, giving a sense of order, of narrative, but without direction, or hope for resolve.
The comparisons that are initiated by AGNES may occur naturally in face-to-face dialogue, but when they appear automated, the offsetting the recovered memory sequences of Flash Gordon and Black Mirror may appear as non-sequiturs, and seemingly illogical for a machine to produce such disharmony. The piece’s presentation as an automated process suppress the humanity of its creation, thus reminding the viewer to “suspect the invisible,” as “technology is everywhere […] that we can’t see it.” AGNES seeks to pass a “reverse-Turing Test” [Evans, 2013], and convince the audience that it is a machine, and not is in fact human, as discussion with the artist reveals; “AGNES is me” [Evans, 2013]. The representation is interconnected with that which is represented, not only for individualss who’s personas extend themselves online, but for the social environment in which they exist, and the relationships based on the connections between the multiple facets of the self.
New media devices further this fragmentation as computers themselves belong “to that long aesthetic tradition that derives all of its energy from a fission of the one dividing into the multiple.” [Kittler, 2009; 30] The duplication of individuals is made even more possible by the mass interconnection of the self through various online platforms and hardware devices simultaneously, which allow a self-portrait to be painted on one canvas and replicated onto a thousand others instantly. Once a photograph is taken, or a status written, it can be shared between social medias, from Facebook, to Instagram, to Tumblr to be embedded and multiplied one numerous websites, remediated, recontextualised and accessed by countless individuals across the world at once; creating a unity of the image through ubiquity, order through centralised chaos.
This is especially significant when art becomes multi-faceted, as the remediation must not destroy the aura of the work of art, instead is must refashion it in another media form. [Bolter, 2000: 75] The value placed on each rendition of a subject, whether art, object, individual, or meme, may be determined by the established cultural hierarchy of media according to their assumed immediacy [Bolter, 2000, 100] their sense of reality to the audience.
AGNES may reflect how “the new media object can exist in numerous version and numerous incarnations,” [Manovich, 2001: 134] as each interaction produces a unique result, simultaneously across multiple platforms. However, it is for the user; the audience, to establish their own heir achy when interacting with Evans’ piece, as no narrative is predisposed to be of greater significance than any other, which the audience may only experience by revisiting the artwork at different times of day, or refreshing the page, electing different options, to compare the different outcomes, and access the varying levels of control the viewer has over the experience. This could suggest a “post-media condition” in which “no single medium is dominant any longer; instead, all of the different media influence and determine each other’.” [Weibel, 2007] The single subject splits from a single source, branching out into an increasingly complex delta, in which no one stream is represents the total body. By extension, it could be argued that, no single self is dominant, in the physical or virtual, on or offline. The overload of multiple identities may only be overcome by asserting the selective aspects of the self in different environments “You will find that some bodies work best in some situations while others work best in others. [Walser, 1991: 191] Much as the format of AGNES changes depending on the scenario generated by the audience as user.
Fig. 3 Stelarc. (1980) Third Hand
Online environments enable the “construction of self-identity” [Farman, 2011, 75] and an interweaving of multiple modes of the societal self, an intermingling of technological and face-to-face interactions. From the merging of ontological boundaries “the cyborg emerges […] the hybridised organism that (con)fuses man and organism, animal and apparatus, physical matter and non-physical information.” [Luke, 2000: 40] Shenk describes becoming dependent on his laptop, life without it utterly terrifying, thereby identifying as a “Mac-person.” [Shenk, 1997: 68] Such cybernetic realisations may explicitly evidence the self-made man-machine that results from greater technological integration to cope with the new requirements of the body. Stelarc acknowledges that “we’ve always been hooked up to technologies and have always been prosthetic bodies, augmented and extended.” Stelarc explicitly merges organic and animatronic interfaces to address the role of technology in humanity. As one constructs the other, the trajectory of technology propels human developments. “Technology is what defines being human” [Zylinska, 2002: 87,114, 139] They allow man to thrive in adversity, simultaneously creating a world beyond the individual’s understanding.
A means of avoiding an overload of the senses, Sterlac extends his hand thrice, a cybernetic interaction, locating himself within his body and that of the artifice. Rather than embracing the total disparity of the post-human condition, as fellow artist Orlan does, insisting “the body is obsolete. It can no longer deal with the situation. We mutate at the speed of cockroaches, and yet are cockroaches with their memories on computer,” [Orlan, 2000: 12] and by extending the bodies faculties into machines, man admits its limits, its failings. By developing machines of hyper-speed, car and computer alike, society may realise that its environment has accelerated beyond the body’s grasp. Hence, the post-human condition relies on the sustained use of “Post-anthropocentric technologies” [Braidotti, 2013: 127] to reflect a world without man at its centre, a less narcissistic approach that relates people more to their animal position, which therefore acknowledges that information overload may be a product of super-human technologies. However such a scenario is not universally applicable, but may be applicable sections of the educated populous of developed nations.
Stelarc could be seen to extend himself into the world in proprioceptive ways that extend the being-in-the-world beyond the ph physical limits of the body.” [Farman, 2011: 31] to realise the human potential, whereas Shenk’s computer use is described as more of a means of efficiently maximising the mental faculties; whereas the notepad simple records static thoughts, for him “the Mac fluidly assists in the process of contemplation.” Allowing users to rise above their “ordinary mortal self, pushing the envelope of what humanity is capable” [Shenk, 1997: 69-70] Not limited to personal betterment, the human-mechanical relationship allows individuals to expand their social connections over greater geographical limits than may be possible for the person, not just as an outstretched robotic hand, third ear, or virtual avatar; online media enables what Stelarc describes as “intimacy without proximity,” [Zylinska, 2002: 86] using representational media to enable human interaction, through the haptic interfaces of machines to create seemingly authentic experience of proximity to others.
The increasing use of digital media is indicated in how “more UK adults, especially older adults, are now going online, using a range of devices.” [Ofcom, 2014: 4] especially regularly using online resources, as “in 2014, 38 million adults (76%) in Great Britain accessed the Internet every day.” [ONS, 2014] This growing connectivity cannot be overlooked. Although neither should the12 million (24%) adults who do not use the internet daily, who’s interaction with one another is critically different to that of regular users, as their behaviour may be considered atypical, so the society they encounter will not be crafted for them, as it is tailored to the whims of the majority.
Shenk’s testimony to having time with his Mac than any other object or person [Shenk, 1997: 70] reflects the increasing intimacy exists with and through interface. Surfaces of of humanised devices are “non-places” [Auge, 1995] reciprocal areas through which to access other people or locations. [Farman, 2011: 2] Transparent technologies interweave and remediate the body [Bolter, 2000: 254] Objects provide emotional and thought provoking companionship, [Turkle, 2007: 5] becoming subverted in daily activity. For example; 30% of UK adults now use tablet computers [Ofcom, 2014: 4]. Not simple a synthetic window; the multi-faceted haptic screen contains and presents optic objects. Unlike the laptop, it is productively limited, but may be more convenient for consuming: [Pogue, 2010] a specialised consumption machine for information glut.
Understanding may be disable by excessive information when “no single window completely dominants the viewer’s attention,” [Manovich, 2001: 97] so interfaces must be designed to allow naturalistically shifting attention, so users dwell on desirable interactions, not the medium’s mechanics. Social ubiquity is equally incomprehensible; cognitive and vocal limitations disallow omnipresent discourse, though shifting attention rapidly between textual conversations online empowers super-human exchange. Not just as an assistant as Shenk suggests, but an “extension of man,” [Mcluhan, 1964: 221] remaining tethered to the embodied individual. Individuals must function as an information node to mediate their multi-facet online presence. 55% of UK Adults use mobile devices to access social media and email, [Ofcom, 2014: 4] thereby instigating ongoing information consumption, and sustained object intimacy.
Disconnecting from the Network severs the extended nervous system, so the loss of a smart-phone may be tantamount to digital decapitation, the sudden realisation of geographic isolation coupled with financial concerns: with designed obsolescence and the technological acceleration of Moore’s Law, “the pace of change is extraordinarily expensive.” [Shenk, 1997; 85]. Mobile users are social privileged in technological apartheid, when globally “many people have no access to the internet or don’t use it at all.” (Steyerl, 2013)
The virtual is part of the real; the narrative of the simulacrum is that of the simulator. For AGNES, she negates her humanity; she phenomenologically exists in the relationship with the audience, much as Stelarc’s third arm can physical touch them. AGNES weaves a seemingly linear discourse progression from “a collection of loose threads” [Evans, 2013], which when examine as a whole presents itself like a Möbius strip; a one-sided loop which feeds back on itself’ giving the illusion of moving forward.
AGNES could be seen to reflect the way in which even more so than broadcast television, the many-to-many format of social media means that “each day becomes a real-life soap opera, with news bits so brief that it is nearly impossible to learn anything substantial.” [Shenk, 1997: 186] Much like the soap-opera, the NewsFeed is meant to be repeated, ephemeral in its passing, but perpetually archived; its fleeting aesthetic has no resolve. Khoi Vinh observed that with digital online media; “the great experiences of this new medium have no beginning, middle and end; there is no narrative arc to Google, no measurable breadth for Facebook, not climactic resolution for Twitter. […] In the day-to-day interactions of countless millions of people, these experiences exist as a continuum.” [Vinh, 2011: 130]
During an open discussion on the fate of AGNES, as part of the Futurecamp lectures at the Wysing Arts Centre [Evans, 2014] Evans asked the audience; “What happens when I am deleted?” [Evans, 2014] for AGNES, an exclusively online, digital entity, such a question of termination is more than merely of disconnecting from the online self, it is the death of individuals’ narrative. Consequentially, when addressing representational humanity in the form of virtual person, it must be asked; “who is behind the interface?” [Evans, 2014] In the case of AGNES, it is Evans that plays the role of the operator to the “Mechanical Turk” [Evans, 2013], as it is she who directs the life of the spam-bot, based discourses with those she interacted with during the process of making the piece, the technicians behind its construction, and how the audience responded to the piece during its exhibition (in AGNES’s words; for want for a better term), on the gallery website.
The website functions as an extension of the gallery, as profile a person, so is tied to the same responsibilities. Its commercial operations are not exclusively concerned with providing a format for Evans’ work, but maintain its own financial obligations. The piece has to be shown to provide an increase in user traffic in order for its existence online to be subsidised. A lack of user interaction would result in AGNES’s death, and for Evans, she would no longer have a format to display her work. This exemplifies how the “experience of the online person” is interwoven with offline relationships, evidencing “immaterial interaction with material consequence.” [Evans, 2014] Comparatively, should users of social media have their access revoked, then the relationships they have established through those media may be rendered impractical, due to geographical distance and financial restraints; and the communities that they have integrated with may disintegrate.Everyday Overload
Although the Information Society’s subjects engage with a growing complexities of activates during a typical day, users in essence always use the same few tools and commands [Manovich, 2001: 66-67] as media interfaces remediate the features and forms of existing tools; familiarity is user-friendly. Much as habitual routes are used to orientate in the chaos of a city; familiar faces will be searched for to suppress the anxious complexity of the crowd. Society is life, “you have to be with other people, […] In order to live at all,” [Dick, 1968: 161] but without order it is pandemonium.
Jason Farman noted that “embodiment depends on the cognitive unconscious,” in order to place the self in the world, individuals must remain ignorant to vast majority of their surroundings, to avoid the sense being overwhelm. Suggesting one “imagine that while you were having a conversation with someone, that every other conversation in the room and every sound in the room became as equally important.” [Farman, 2011: 27] Such autistic hypersensitivity would stimulate social confusion. This syntax of comprehension combines communication, information; and the attention required to prioritise; “the kitchen that cooks raw data into useful information is human attention.” [Lanham, 2006: 7] As “every movement naturally produces noise,” [Huelsenbeck, 1920: 10] all online actions produce data; which must be filtered to create understanding. So whatever is heard is mostly noise [Cage, 1937: 3-6] but mediation means “there is no ambient noise except by choice.” In the era of unlimited information, people may create their own bubbles to reduce the overload to acceptable levels, making for a “narrow, algorithmically comfortable existence.” [Uglow, 2014]
When information extends beyond the frame of reference, pre-mediated knowledge may be relied upon, hence 98% of online UK adults rely on search engines to access information. [Ofcom, 2014: 6] The expanding infrastructure causes feedback, the tools of navigation may become like a map of an Empire the size of a Provenience, impractically detailed. Locative social media emphasise site-specificity, reiterating alterity to simulate a sense of emplacement. [Farman, 2011: 61] Although their use is minimal, as in 2010 only 4% of mobile users engaging with locative media.” [Zickuhr; 2010] they can serve as ballast against the tide of information, entwining online abstraction with the physical, linear structure.
Fig. 4 Leonard, Rollin (2013) 360o/18 Lilia
The Feed is a state of constant renewal. Whereas Ouroboros, “keeps its tail firmly clamped in its jaws to form an eternal circle,” [Howe, 2008: 40] controlling its own destiny, the continuous narrative of the gluttonous feed of text-lives and images resembles a dog with its leash in its mouth, control could be snapped away at a moment’s notice, before being muzzle and confined to a kennel. “Instead of deference to the authority of the past, we have the fleeting co-presence of multiple time zones, in a continuum that activates and de-territorializes stable identities and fractures temporal linearity.” [Deleuze, 1988] Without being able to establish order within the tumultuous miasma of everyday interactions with socialised information technology, the linear folds inwards, as a constantly expanding möbius engulf’s individual chaotic narrative, furthered by the unending archive of their online existent, granting a form of immortality; life without conclusion, like everybody walking side-by-side on one treadmill. So the world stages itself for the static-tourist’s eyes; “created from specific information keyboarders by master illusionists.” Made objects and images “find their beginning and central reality in computer assisted design and manufacture.” [Lanham, 2006: 2, 5] Though this is not limited to environments, representations, and products; human relationships that are sustained by social media supplementation may find their existence grounded in the digital networks; not unreal but grounded in electronica. Still eliciting an authentic human response, much as the phenomenological ontology of recorded music provides a genuine emotive experience for the listener.
A looping, möbius narrative allows for the illusion of progress, like a revolving Revolution, never establishing new order, only refreshing the existing structures. “From a capitalist-productivist society to a neo-capitalist cybernetic order that aims now at total control,” by substituting social control for “anticipation, simulation and programming” [Baudrillard, 1983: 111] a government or information mediator my induce a sense of kinaesthesia without the need to engage critical progress. The chaos of the overload may cause social disorder, and this allows control to be established by filtering the noise, and confining them to the most politically desirable frequency; them that there is nothing else to see and hear. The population is “deprived of any form of organisation, because organisation causes trouble. They ought to be sitting alone in front of the TV […] That’s all there is to life.” [Chomsky, 1997: 27] Establishing a routine is a means of control not only for individuals within their own life, but for external forces to influence their habits.
News feeds from both ends.
The loop typifies the post-video narrative structure that is alien to the linearity of a book. As in Ray Bradbury’s (1953) Fahrenheit 451, the destruction of the linear in the form of the book filters in to the illusion of progress in the character’s discourse. They have been crammed so “full of noncombustible data, chock[ed] […] so dammed full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.” so they [feel they’re thinking, [getting a sense of motion without moving.” [Bradbury, 1978: 61] Their only frame of reference is the television, soap-opera format, in which continuity is replaced with a banal continuum, where events take place but nothing happens, only empty words are exchanged. Much as Facebook’s NewsFeed elicits a ceaseless stream of uneventful images and a torrent of melancholic rambling. It trickles gluttonous information as users consume compulsively like rodents ignorantly fattening in a cage of its own making.
Like a photomontage and the fragmented portrait, in 360o/18 Lilia the multifaceted individual exists as references to numerous external perceptions, “no one has only one identity […] everyone must, […] identify with more than one group, one identity. [Lawler, 2008: 3] Individuals’ representational discourse is influenced by mediation and re-contextualisation, becoming incomprehensible when alienated. A montages’ isolated images are a transplanted product of their environment. The massive image collection acts as a single body of meta-data, portraying the artist through their online interactions in excessive detail, forming an attentive examination of image structure supersedes realism, as digital images contain more information than is ever necessary [Manovich, 2001: 53]. However, the imagery is limited to the medium which stores it; the loop circumvents this problem by expanding through repetitive watching, with each encounter informing the next. Whereas “The Photograph immobilizes a rapid scene in its decisive instant.” [Barthes, 1980: 33] 360o/18 Lilia becomes non-static hyper-image; interconnecting images, once embedded online, externally linking further information and internally referencing the other frames within the sequence to form a more complete picture.
The piece explores remediated photographic reprocessing, responding to the digital remediation of bodily representations, producing a “digital uncanny” [Hunt, 2011] of identifiably human manipulations; animating still images, forming a digitally puppeteered sequence, fragmenting the media’s transparent verisimilitude.
It exploits the principal of “highly composite numbers” to divide up the image, rotating at nine different rates, resetting to a complete body every 360 frames [Leonard, 2013] superficially imitating the rolling shutter effect, creating an unfixed, glitch-like, neo-cubist portrait, resisting the obscurity of the mediation, producing a disjointed, pareidolic continuum. The hypermediacy of the dynamic perspective hinders realism, undermining the immediacy of the media, disrupting “the data behind a digital representation” [Manon, 2011], furthered by desaturating reality. Leonard’s piece exemplifies “A particularly favourable condition for awakening uncanny sensations” by creating “intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one.” [Freud, 1919: 385] As the central image of the work is human, but it is dehumanised by dynamism; as the motion is unnatural; unlike the familiar formats of linear film or static photograph which it remediates. The face is severed and reassembled by interweaving multiple timelines, a fluidly formed Frankenstein’s monster.
The gallery-ready 36-second loop converted into a more malleable; embeddable GIF image; reflects the proliferation potential of “the network society,” [Van Dijk, 1999: 79] activating engaging with a post-modern self-reflectivity by commenting on its media by embracing its transmutability. Rather than “lacking a medium” by encompassing simulations of all reproducible media, [Stallabrass, 2011: 165] the online remediation reinforces the medium as the message [McLuhan, 1964: 129] not limited to isolated outcomes or locations, the circulation of the image file becomes a means of display. [Cairns, 2013, 131] The looping film may typify the experiences of new mediums, as there is no narrative arc to the “absolute” [Zuboff, 2014] Google, no measurable breadth for Facebook, or climactic resolution for Twitter, “these experiences exist as a continuum.” [Vinh, 2001: 130] The animated GIF also remediates the historical minimalism of Eadweard Muybridge’s (1878) The Horse In Motion, not presenting a narrative, simple the marvel of the marvel of realistic moving images,” [Bolter, 2000: 155] offering a kaleidoscopic self-reflection exemplified by the multiplicity of online presentation in Leonard’s abstracted portrait, responding visually to the discord of the asynchronous loop of uniquely ubiquitous hyperlink narratives; typifying new media’s continuous aesthetics over montage. [Manovich, 2001: 143] Paralleling the “web-like, scattered, and poly-centred” non-linearity of global economics [Braidotti, 2013: 164-165]
Rather than a death of narrative, looping formats may be comparable to twenty-four-hour rolling-news, turning “society into what [James] Joyce called an “allnights newsery reel,” that substitutes a “reel” world for reality.” [McLuhan, 1964: 193] The looping representation is woven into the everyday, further by its banality. The video is cyclically remediated by repetitive viewing, so the loop may be a new narrative form appropriate for the computer age. [Manovich, 2001: 317] This may be due in part to how computer media has replaced sequential analogue storage with random-access. [Manovich, 2001: 78] Consumption may become structured compulsively; atypical data flotsam and jetsam in the “sea of information,” [Oshii, 1995] When “the tools of distribution are ubiquitous,” [Uglow, 2014] and completely domesticated [Silverston, 1996: 46] artists may use multiplicity to overcome or even to proliferate banality in existing communication hierarchies. “In the age of file sharing, even marginalized content circulates again and reconnects dispersed world-wide audiences.” [Steyerl, 2012: 42] Nullifying the object/subjective representation distinction, mediums may ascertain omnipresence, hyper mediating remediated facsimiles.
The constant external narrative of the data-feed intertwines the fabric of the self amongst society. Considering the Idealist Ontology proposed by the notion that “we are the stories we tell ourselves” [Kapur, 2009], then it may be worth arguing that “the storytelling that comes to define the self and the self’s relationship to the communal space around him or her is also a phenomenological narrative.” [Farman, 2011: 118] Therefore, the internalising of an external personal narrative, in the form of an online presence or profile, may have be understood as being not just an extension of the self in cyberspace; “life beyond the ego-bound human.” [Briadotti, 2013: 133]; an imperfect, filtered reflection; but also as being symbiotic.
As users uploads more pictures of themselves, a great digital portrait of them is built up; simultaneously this may alter the perception of oneself, and how the user understands their external, online appearance, directly informs their internal narrative, their personality. Change becomes inevitable for images in the collective conscience [Nachtwey, 2012: 74] Feedback loops form between the physical and digital self; the virtual – reality binary may be disregarded due to constant interrelationship between the multi-faceted individual. The user does not simply become their mask; they are a collection of beings, a mosaic, and interconnection between their tiles defines them. But crucially individuals exists in their internal-relationship and external interactions within a social complex; “a person without a story does not exist” [Kapur, 2009] and their narrative cannot exist in isolation. The internalising of the Feed’s narrative loop may reflect a pre-existing sense of continuum between people, though representing it in text and images contrasts to the live experience, as the phenomenology of the archive differs from the memory, as linear events do not necessarily remain so in the mind. Deviations from the linear enable progress over monotony.
Although “repetition can lead to a state of forgetting. […] Repetition is also our primary means of learning.” [Bloom, 2014] The loop secures both routine and understanding. As society’s ability to learn may exceed that of the individual; the role of the intermediary becomes increasingly important for the basic comprehension of everyday subject matter, as that subject matter shifts exponentially in its inter-connective complexities. Individuals rely on dialogue to learn [Farman, 2011: 74] the elements of tasks initially beyond the learner’s capacity, [Wood, 1976: 90] extending the “zone of proximal development.” [Vygotsky, 1978: 86] Surpassing the limitations of individuals by interacting with communal knowledge. However, the hyperbolic post-modern tendencies towards instantaneousness, ubiquity, and progress may increase the rate of delirium, therefore a greater reliance on easily edited materials over social understanding.
The Web’s extreme nichification encourages users to explore their personal interest range by rewarding them with highly specific information on those interests; as well as electronic interactions with people who share those interest. [Shenk, 1997: 128] Information becomes more distributed and less navigable, encouraging specialisation; cultural compression. However, pictures’ perceived instantaneous to communicate means that “knowing how to “read” images is a crucial skill in this media age.” [Paglia, 2004: 3] The compression of information and individuals into “the visual equivalent of sound bites” [Sontag, 2003: 77] negates the possibility for more complex understanding, than that which is beyond the Profile Picture. It also encourages an adherence to the norm, as Chomsky observed: “the beauty of concision […] is that you can only repeat conventional thoughts.” [Chomsky, 1992] Brevity actively discourages evidencing and supports the proliferation of the most provocative materials. Compression results in a loss of information; simplification results in a change of meaning. Nevertheless, compression is necessary for the day-to-day functioning, otherwise the world should buffer indefinitely. Remediated materials may loose information incrementally with each transition between media.
Filtering incurs a loss of information. Reducing a billion pieces of information from “federal census efforts into forty types of neighbourhoods” may be an accomplishment for analytics. but the 1976 Claritas’s American lifestyle clusters’s sole achievement was “that made it possible for humans to encompass these things to use them in real marketing.” [Shenk, 1997. 116-117] Categorising people produces no new knowledge about them, but merely makes them more quantifiable. Data access does not equate knowledge; a library is not a brain; it is finding the connections between data that requires intelligent understanding, not just pattern-finding.
Using superficial data to plot trends as a means of predicting future behaviour and potential preferences based on established ones is no guarantee of accuracy. The omnipotent machine may overlook what is missing, and that may be the most significant piece of information. As the empty locket around the neck of a grandmother who loves all her family equally may say more about that individual and their relationships than any data-set. Absence is action.
Fig. 5 González-Torres, Félix (1991) “Untitled”
In Félix González-Torres (1991) “Untitled” billboard piece, in two pillows are shown impressed with the weight of absent figures, the emptiness of this human void conveys more meaning to the audience about loss and death (especially the effects of the AIDS epidemic on the USA LGBT community) than any figurative representation of human decay could have/illustrating how absence is as significant as presence, if not more so in an age of super-abundant imagery. In photography, not only is the absence of an object posited, but it infers that it has been, that it existed. [Barthes, 1980: 115] This work displayed on public billboards in American cities makes explicit what is missing; the figure has been removed.
Much as the user may absent themselves from the online overload, their resistance is not a lack of action, it is to feel the swelling maelstrom and for a moment dwell, before the conscious struggle reasserts itself, or they “lie silently and let time wash over us in the stillness of non-life,” accepting their insignificance; the disappearance and disruption of the self. Becoming “a virtual corpse” [Braidotti, 2013: 135-136] in the ebb and flow. Participation is presumed constant until proven otherwise. The absence of interaction does not entail a desistance of action, the audience, are involved involuntarily, through inaction, through choosing to not look, share, appearing uninvolved. Turning a blind eye to the imposing billboard is a participatory action and is not passive. Ignorance is acceptance; accepting of the banality of the advertising platform hijacked by González-Torres, the image of death becomes background noise. Here the artist decommercialises advertising space, whereas social media commercialise the shared environment, commenting on the perceived emotive inertia of images. The viewer is exclusively concerned with their own gaze, not that which is beyond it, except as objects of desire.
Alfredo Jaar suggests that “people have lost their capacity to see, they have lost their capacity to be affected.” [Jaar, 2004] however, rather than a lack of affect or empathy, what is lost is the ability to act; the affect may simply be apathetic. For example, when “three out of four people [are] desensitized to images showing hunger, drought, and disease,” [BBC, 2012] and effort to rectify this erroneous situation is minimal, than the overload can be seen as a highly effective means of generating inertia, and as a means of directing attention away from non-profitable enterprises, such as charity.
As former Italian president Silvio Berlusconi observed “Reality offers too many occasions that cause anxiety”, however rather than attempting to resolve the anxiety causing issues, he proposes that his “will be an optimistic television.” [Colours, 2013: 46] By bombarding the populous with positive imagery, they may be distracted from stimulating political reform. “You don’t pay an attention to what’s going on. You look at something else, like the Superbowl.” [Chomsky, 1997: 32] Moreover, Berlusconi’s attitude to media control is fairly direct; control the flow of information to control the population. He “was given almost three times more ‘talking time’ on his own news program TG4 than rival candidates” [Colours, 2013: 48] leading up to elections. By making his voice the only one that is heard, it is presented as the only real option; opposition is unfathomable, all else is noise.
Commercialising Social Media Space
The topology of algorithmic categorisation versus the unconscious associations of memory priorities different connections between events. An machine cannot identify personality traits by their meta-data, only that certain categories of behaviour may correspond to pre-programmed examples of interactions. It can only access whether the uploaded information may become more connectively rich by identifying the frequency and content replies using the same systems. “The hetroglossia of data we are confronted with demands compile topologies of knowledge for a subject structured by multidirectional relationality.” [Braidotti, 2013: 165] Mechanical familiarity is categorised and pre-filtered, and severely compressed; which makes it easier to distribute. However, the familiar is not just recurring data, but to the whole complexity of phenomenological relationships and societal influence.
The entirety of a person cannot be deconstructed and quantified, so representing interactions based on the premiss of deconstructing the dissociated persona is severely limiting, and may only effectively serve as a subsidy for minor interactions and as the basis for targeting advertising. This cannot function as the exclusive foundation of human relationships. Shenk implores users to make their own decisions, act as their own filters. [Shenk, 1997: 126] A total reliance on third-party information mediation not only places individuals in boxes to be marketed at, but also means people may negate their own ability to filter information, and be dependent on the actions of the media and so be total susceptible to the control it may exert.
The primary goal of social media is not to better connect people for their own benefit but as a means of commercialising their users. “The environments we interact in are also shaped by a commercially-motivated imperative that has political effects: the desire to keep us happy.” [Wilson, 2014] An abated user-ship reconstitutes personal narrative into commercial potential. Facebook’s contagious mood-altering experiment illustrated how the newsfeed is constantly being refined to show the most desirable material to keep users engaged for longer [Booth, 2014] producing more data for advertisements. [Jeffries, 2014] By altering personal information, Facebook fed its users back into their own personalised Feed; encouraging an extreme nichification of the Web, encouraging users to explore their interests by rewarding highly specific data [Shenk, 1997: 128] deliberately limiting their area of activity to make them a more quantifiable product. The routine becomes inescapably sacrosanct.
Mark Zukerberg declared “connectivity is a human right,” [Warman, 2014], but uses that connectivity for personal profit. The Newsfeed convinces the user that they are the news, the social, that they are the event, involved, they can use their voice. [Baudrillard, 1983: 53] Thereby, informational privacy’s “right to selective disclosure” [Van Dijk, 1991: 100] is a measure of contributed data pollution. Eli Noam noted “Almost anybody can add information. The difficult question is how to reduce it.” [Shenk, 1997, 181] Privacy is self-moderation, algorithmic filtration its counterpart. GCHQ’s Rober Hannigan’s announcement; “privacy has never been an absolute right” [Quinn, 2014] is an endorsement of Consequentialism, imploring anti-self-regulation.
The wiling submission of privacy for greater connectivity is more common amongst young internet users, with 55% happy to provide personal information online to companies as long as they get what they want in return versus 42% for all internet users. [Ofcom, 2014: 7] This is not limited to social sites, cyberspace is predominately favours a deregulated free-market libertarianism with minimal public infrastructure, benefitting “niche groups who would prefer that government not interfere with their pursuits of wealth. […] The Net is not literal a new world vested with its own sovereignty; it is a new and exciting facet of society” [Shenk, 1997: 174, 206]
The mass distribution of information does not necessarily instigate a democratisation of knowledge, and an egalitarian levelling of societies’ power structures, but rather the overload may produce apathy; contributing to what Conor Gearty calls ‘neo-democracy’ in partnership with neoliberalism, a system in which liberty is enjoyed by the few, and security in its fullest sense is available only to the elite, but within a system of more general formal rights.” [Chomsky, 2014] Revoking privacy invoking the freedom to overload. Existing plutocracies are reinforced by informational libertarianism, free-market Republicanism, and “a highly-decentralized, deregulated society with little common discourse and minimal public infrastructure.” [Shenk, 1997: 174]
The principals of the current online Oligopoly is incompatible with the Egalitarian vision Tim Berners-Lee founded the Internet, since “supplanted by a customised, commercialised online paradise or hell.” [Jeffries, 2014] Seeing the connectivity of others is profitable for the Mediators. Facebook’s non-profit origin was overturned by needing to sustain the platform and the desire be profitable. Unfortunately, egalitarianism “makes no sense in an economy of attention,” [Lanham 1997: 12] as it is not evenly distributable, there is always a profiteered hierarchy of attention. Within the largest archive of rich, ever-expanding social imagery, [Ritchin, 2013: 38], the user is monitiesed, focusing attention onto advertisements and pacifying visual material. The colossal database is mined for any useful connections. There is not enough time to examine every single image, so asking “those who know most about a given subject to help choose for us.” [Ritchin, 2013: 146] seems necessary. But the user must remain wear to how they are direct when surrendering control of the information flow.
Thomas Jones said “the purpose of Facebook is to harvest, organise and store as much personal information as possible to be flogged, ready-sifted and stratified, to advertisers. […] We aren’t Facebook users, we’re its product.” [Jeffries, 2014] Despite this knowledge, it remains one of the most popular websites; Facebook.Inc sustains a population of 2.2 billion users. [Edwards, 2014]. If a third of the world’s population uses Facebook, and in the UK it remains the default service, being multiple times daily by its users. [Ofcom, 2014: 5] Its potential influence is immense, as is its contribution to the glut. This is the consensual era of consumer-generated content and harvesting of heterogeneous impulses; collected and refined for surveillance purposes and profit. [Nechvatal, 2014]
Similarly, the worlds biggest advertising firm and search engine Google alters search results, and Amazon changes which produces are shown products based on meta-data. [Hern, 2014] This could be of serious political concern as given the increase in user numbers, and therefore control over information and power; “Google could rig elections,” and Facebook could give “a 1% increase in favourable articles to one party” potentially having major international effects. [Hern, 2014] Such underhand actions are more easily performed under the cover of chaos.
It may be problematic to suggest that censorship and mediation may be considered necessary as a means of working towards political resolution. However, given the lack of media transparency, “the picture of the world that’s presented to the public has only the remotest relation to reality,” [Chomsky, 1997: 37] it may be worth considering that “there is simply too much injustice in the world. And too much remembering […] embitters. […] To reconcile, it is necessary that memory be faulty and limited.” [Sontag, 2003: 103] The mental censorship of undesirable information, that enables psychological distancing, and the “banality of evil” [Arendt, 1963] which mechanises institutionalised genocide, may require deliberate forgetting. But from a civilian perspective it may also be necessary for focused recollection, reconciliation, and coping with apathy. However, the user may wish to abstain from the negative aspects of individuals’ interaction with media, but still wish to use the format as a means of staying connected with distant individuals, to supplement face-to-face interactions, to sustain their communication, because of the value placed on their relationship, irregardless of their distracting, antagonistic environment.
Fig. 6 Roth, Evan (2013) Internet Cache Self Portrait
Shenk noted; “being able to share one’s personal thoughts, ambitions, accomplishments, trials, and tribulations with other like-minded people is part of the joy of being human.” [Shenk, 1997: 127] In Internet Cache Self Portrait [Fig. 6] Evans Roth responds to the exponential ego-archive remediating himself in multi-phased reflections: a portrait by proxy. This ongoing pieces reflects the gluttonous growth through expanding sculptural collage; wallpaper unravelling into carpet, physically incarnating the banal “gigantic library” [Manovich, 2001: 130] of the Web.
The piece visualises the enormous image database, indicative of the human extensions that “affects the whole psychic and social complex.” [Mcluhan, 1964: 4] Although “photomontage can be interpreted as a deviation from the essentially transparent nature of unified nature of photography,” it reflects photography’s “irreducible hypermediacy,” [Bolter, 2000: 39] representing the fragmented narrative-window of social media, by portraying artist and media simultaneous. Online photographs of the gallery exhibition reconstructs the immateriality of internet imagery. Roth’s collage exemplifies the self-referentiality of new media object, where creative energy “goes into the selection and sequencing of elements rather than into original design.” [Manovich, 2001: 127, 130] Illustrating self-generating multifaceted-autobiographical meta-media
The fluctuating subject’s unfixed response emphasises the process of production over “the finished art object.” [Mitchell, 1994: 8] Assimilating increasingly hyperactive networked attention into everyday interactions cybernetically parallels Moore’s Law [Chacos, 2013] whilst distorting the hierarchy of info-influx, much as Leonard warps of the continuum of the figure; “because there is no single, privileged point of view, the self becomes a series of ‘other’ points of view,” preventing an empathic relationship with another’s viewpoint. [Bolter, 2000: 247, 245]
Roth’s piece is worth considering in conjunction with how individuals construct their online identity, especially regarding ‘internet natives’, born into the current era of the network society. Younger internet users “take a more liberal approach to regulation and moderation, [employing] a range of strategies to manage their online experience proactively, while older users appear to prefer a more moderated and regulated experience.” [Ofcom, 2014: 6] Youths’ use is not naïve, rather pragmatic to their developing environment. Meta-media based marketing priorities communications for data-mining, profiteering “conspicuous consumption” [Petridis, 2014] through quantifying consumers’ interrelationships; monetizing The “endless and unstructured collection images, texts” [Manovich, 2001: 219] into meta-databases’ inferred associations [Lanham, 2006: 2] to generate advertising recommendations.
As the online archive expands exponentially, the accessibility of information may become greater, but the acquisition of knowledge may be hindered by the overwhelming torrent. Although Ritchin optimistically predicts that “the banal imagery detailing the everyday, should eventually prove an essential reservoir of social documentary” [Ritchin, 2013: 38] what seems more probable is that documentary clarity will not be attained, but rather the flood of images will engulf itself in an unpresentable manner; only the most recent history will be comprehensible. Facebook’s NewsFeed only shows as much about a person as they wish to share, which may have little baring on individuals’ dynamic-actuality.
Isolated photos may reflect moments in time, but their totality does not guarantee realistic representation; “the blandest imagery may be the most deceptive,” [Ritchin, 2013: 17] especially with digital photographs, which can be quickly modify, and combed with other images; instantly shared with other people and inserted into a multimedia document. [Manovich, 2013: 62] Every photograph may be inauthentic, or an undesirable misrepresentation, (hence Silvio Berlusconi buys the rights to all unflattering photographs of himself [Colours, 2013: 46]) and the exceptional events may be more thoroughly documented than the routine., thus skewing the historical self-perspective. Events seems insignificant when everything is presented en masse, and their value may be measured in passive ‘Liking’ appraisal, rather than their human impact.
Not limited to individuals, the overload is apparent in collective bodies. Much as it can be profitable for mass-media conduits, like Google, some organisations are equally incapacitated by the glut. The US NSA overhears more information than it can make sense of, as the World Trade Centre occupants discovered. Potential mass communication overload enables such “crimes of attention” [Lanham, 2006: 6, 12] to play out on a grand scale. Terrorism weaponises information, using the speed of mass communication to court the press [Colours, 2013: 54] and destabilising infrastructure. The power of the explosion is secondary to the the multimedia explosion. [Virilio, 1983, 174-175] Similarly, UK GCHQ regards data attacks as a “Tier One threat to national security”, have recently “a new Cyber Incident Response scheme […] to help organisations recover from a cyber security attack.” [Cabinet Office, 2014] When governments require entire departments to deal with informational threats, civilians rely on Media to protect their personal sovereignty. It becomes clear why algorithms are employed to identify behaviour patterns when the US’s 327,384 hours of drone video transmissions, [Colours, 2013: 11] there is an overabundance of banal media.
Communication technologies developments enable greater information exchange, expanding communities and creating the possibility for universal unity of understanding. Extending the body’s reach and the central nervous system into external electric technologies, [McLuhan, 1964: 52] has involved the development of socially conditioned media to stratify exponential communications.
As 22 million (84%) of UK households now has access to the internet, [ONS, 2014] it plays an increasing role in everyday interactions, and surfing tumultuous torrents of data.
It has enabled remediated instantaneous international face-to-face communications; Socratic dialogue superseding the broadcast television and telephone. Unlimited by time e-forums facilitate users experience of rapidly shifting focus between simultaneous multi-facet exchanges, establishing order over the increasingly complex information: the electric light of pure information [McLuhan, 1964: 8] turned super-nova by Moore’s Law.
Order begets hierarchy, one which transforms the broadcasting high-priest into the personalised bible. Media structure chaos in its image; their omnipresent power over information flow is near-absolute. Their benevolence must be questioned as the virtual online is interwoven with the offline reality. Screens’ optical landscapes are inseparable from haptic interfaces and their embodied space. This “space is not only an individually lived experience but is always produced as a social experience.” [Farman, 2011: 53] Representational familiarity is established through the phenomenological relationships and may be experienced as reality.
Damning communications with overabundant information forces users to alter their path, mediation is manipulation, so must be understood as a means of control through discourse, artistic and politicised action. Users may find themselves drowning in a sea of information should they drink to eagerly from Útgarða-Loki’s horn; or may be consumed by consumption. Greedy for praise; or “lofgeornost”, [Lanham, 2006: 10-11] social media’s attention overload may submerge individuals in self-made banality.
Unilaterally leaving editing down to algorithms [Bell, 2014] amplifies Media’s contaminates the data-stream. Nevertheless, stemming the tide with some automation is necessary as society has established itself around new media.
The internet must be used tentatively, as like a car, the “extension of man that turns the rider into a superman,” [McLuhan, 1964: 221] individuals must remain conscious of the machine; querying the rapidity of the world, responding to its flaw, whilst forging dynamic human relationships, that do not blur into one unidentifiable mass. As “[Walter Benjamin] looked directly at the noise, not past it,” [Kahn, 1999: 28] it may be the intricacies of intimacies founded in inertia that invigorates engagement with the hyper-speed of mass communication; prevailing in-spite of the overload, acutely aware of the body’s limitations and society’s Media. “Once we realise that information technology cannot replace human experience, that as it increases the available information it also helps devalue the meaning of each piece of information, we will be on the road to reasserting our dominance over technology.” [Shenk, 1997: 199] Society is subject to information inflation, devaluing overlooked information, whilst giving greater meaning to acutely distributed attention and unmediated interactions. “Since all media inevitably change us, how do we want to be changed?” [Richten, 2013: 6] Gluttonous information may intermittently overload the senses, but it is the product of a society eager to share knowledge.
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