Extended Essay: An Overview of Overload

by Beauchamp Art

Colchester

An Overview of Overload: Social Interaction in the Sea of Information

Extended Essay

Benjamin Samuel Beauchamp

BA Fine Art

2015


 

Abstract

This essay focuses on issues of the information overload, as a product of global networking, particularly the role of the Internet and online media. It examines the effects on the user’s capacity for social interaction, and individuals’ ability to function within an environment of increasing technological complexity. It begins by addressing society’s international-internal Panopticon, the overload as control and an informational assault; defended only through surrendering privacy and personal liberty. Particularly focusing on algorithmic censorship through collective contribution to the information glut, considering ubiquitous and pervasive computing’s role in surveillance; alongside self-regulation through the spiral of silence.

The role of art in the age of mechanised mass-media reproduction, and how it may be used as a means of undermining established attention hierarchies and economies is explored, followed by circumnavigating the sea of information, in discourse with Cecile B. Evans and her spam bot, AGNES.
Increasing digital integration, and the cyborg’s embodiment of Post-Humanism, resulting in the overload of Post-Fordism, an overview of the simulated narrative, and the noise of everyday information exchange is examined. It proceeds to the constantly renewing Möbius of the apathetic news feed, and the compression resulting from the overload relating to education.

Furthermore it investigates the presence of absence, contemporary coping mechanisms, the goals of commercialised social media space and privacy, alongside the reciprocity of off/online relationships, and Media’s role in democratising attention, censorship and control. This relates to the exponential ego-archive, comparing the governmental surveillance to social media’s willing contributions.

The conclusion gives an outline of the positive aspects of more abundant information, and the propensity towards apprehension when facing new extensions of man, warning of delving too deeply into the expanding sea of information, that embodies Moore’s Law and post-McLuhan immediacy.


Contents:

Table of Illustrations
Preface
Introduction

Chapter 1: News, Feed, Glut:
Interconnecting Devices
Overworking; Post-Fordism
News: Overload as Censorship
Feed: Pervasive Computing
Self-Surveillance:  The Spiral of Silence
Glut: Spam
Real Virtuality

Chapter 2: Constructing Self-identity:
Cyborg Self
Everyday Overload: Noise
Möbius Ouroboros
360

Chapter 3: Compression:
Knowledge Acquisition
Absence, Silence
Commercialising Social Media Space
Privacy
Democratising Attention
Ego-Archive

Conclusion
Glossary of Terms
List of Sources


 

Table of Illustrations

Cover Image. Beauchamp, Benjamin. (2014) Colchester

Fig. 1 Elahi, Hasan. (2008) Tracking Transience: How does the information overload of online media affect the user’s capacity for social interaction? <http://elahi.umd.edu/elahi_sundance.php> Accessed 12.5.2014

Fig. 2 Evans, Cécile B. (2013) AGNES. The Serpentine Gallery. <http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/agnes> Accessed 17.11.2014

Fig. 3 Stelarc. (1980) Extended Arm. <http://stelarc.org/media/lightbox/data/images/41.jpg> Accessed 12.5.2014

Fig. 4 Leonard, Rollin. (2013) 360 / 18 Lilia <https://artsy.net/post/moving-image-london-2013-rollin-leonard-360-degrees-slash-18-lilia> Accessed 12.5.2014

Fig. 5 González-Torres, Félix. (1991) “Untitled”. <http://www.andrearosengallery.com/artists/felix-gonzalez-torres/images> Accessed 12.5.2014

Fig. 6 Roth, Evan. (2013) Internet Cache Self Portrait. <http://www.evan-roth.com/work/internet-cache-self-portrait/> Accessed 12.5.2014


 

Preface

The information overload threatens to take humanity hostage, drawing in peers through social media, developing Stockholm Syndrome, creating inertia and apathy. The isolating 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, there is no privacy, everybody spies on everybody else. Like a giant garbage site for the information society, everybody dumping 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 cosy village, instead individuals retreat into an electronic Tower of Babel, 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; feeding back familiarised socialise propaganda “to tame the bewildered herd” [Chomsky, 1997: 18]. Aristotle observed that all men by nature desire knowledge [Aristotle, 350BCE: 1], but this may be abated by banal non-information.

Fattened by the gluttonous consumption of Mediators’ benign, unprovocative content, the user is made sluggish. Spectacle creates apathy; frustration at the inability to actively engage, condemned to passive involvement. Why bother being informed if people’s potential impact on society seems 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. A disembodied, disenfranchised, 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.

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.


 

Introduction

“Everywhere we look, we find information overload” [Lanham, 2006: 6].

In a recent lecture, Jaygo Bloom described artists as responsible for “intercepting the flow of perception. […] Making the unconscious, conscious, and the synectic process of making the familiar strange and the strange familiar” [Bloom, 2014]. Because of the greater abundance of mediums, art’s influence as “translator of experience,” [McLuhan, 1964: 242] may further proliferate. Directly addressing 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 mediums lack omnipresence. Severing from servers’ 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, 1602: 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 public are part of today’s world” [Advertising Age, 1986: 17] as the public is an absent-minded examiner [Benjamin, 1936].

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]. It examines the phenomenological ramifications of overload on individuals and how artists respond to the “attention economy,” where information is not in short supply, users are drowning in it; attention has become our scare resource [Lanham, 2006: xi-xii]. This concerns art because it is the discipline that studies how attention is allocated, how capital is created and traded.

Since the end of the 2000’s, 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 an 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 groups than appropriating demonstrable skills. Prometheus’s flames lap from the tongues of man, techne’s charcoals enabled individuals 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.


Chapter 1: News, Feed, Glut

Interconnecting Devices

The increasing use of digital media is indicated by how “more UK adults, especially older adults, are now going online, using a range of devices” [Ofcom, 2014: 4], regularly utilising online resources, “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 the 12 million (24%) adults not using the Internet daily, whose interaction with one another is critically different to that of regular users. As their behaviour may be considered atypical, the society they encounter will be tailored to the whims of the majority.
Shenk testifies to having spent more time with his Mac than any other object or person [Shenk, 1997: 70] reflecting the increasing intimacy exists with and through interfaces. Surfaces of humanised devices are “non-places” [Auge, 1995], reciprocal thoroughfares to access other people or locations [Farman, 2011: 2]. Transparent technologies interweave and remediate the body [Bolter, 2000: 254] whilst objects provide emotional and thought provoking companionship [Turkle, 2007: 5] subverted in daily activity. For example, 30% of UK adults now use tablet computers [Ofcom, 2014: 4]. Not simply 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 content [Pogue, 2010]: a specialised consumption machine for information gluttony.

Understanding may be disabled by excessive information when “no single window completely dominates the viewer’s attention” [Manovich, 2001: 97]. Interfaces must be designed to allow naturalistically adjusting attention, so users dwell on desirable interactions, not a medium’s mechanics. Social ubiquity is equally incomprehensible. Cognitive and vocal limitations prevent omnipresent discourse, although shifting attention rapidly between textual conversations online empowers super-human exchange. The computer is not just as an assistant, as Shenk suggests, but an “extension of man” [Mcluhan, 1964: 221], remaining tethered to the embodied individual.
People function as an information nodes 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. Vasey observed, “the smartphone […] becomes an extension of the body as always on and always with you. The lens becomes a surrogate eye” [Vasey, 2014: 7] in unblinking post-Fordist landscapes, so the camera may appease work-driven individuals’ anxiety to work whilst vacationing, “performing an imitation of work; taking pictures” [Sontag, 1977: 10].

Disconnecting from the Network severs the extended nervous system. The loss of a smart-phone may be tantamount to digital decapitation, the sudden realisation of isolation, coupled with financial concerns and online orphaning. Planned obsolescence and the technological acceleration of Moore’s Law makes the pace of change extraordinarily expensive [Shenk, 1997; 85]. Mobile users are the socially privileged in a technological apartheid. When globally many people have no Internet access or do not use it [Steyerl, 2013], a two-tier society of users and non-users may evolve, further reinforcing existing social divides, particularly financial inequalities. Though this also problematically implies that everybody wants or would benefit from the Internet, such Meritocratic myopia overlooks the genuine needs of the People.


Overworking; Post-Fordism

Post-Industrialisation may have destroyed Marx’s principal that mechanisation would increase leisure time, Post-Fordist labour is perpetual. With Media’s growing ubiquity, Manovich observes that “modern media follows the logic of the factory” [Manovich, 2001: 29] so that compartmentalised activities may extend over all aspects of life, and labour never ends, even “sleep […] is a standing affront to capitalism […] because it represents one of the last remaining zones of dissidence, of anti-productivity and even of solidarity” [Poole, 2013]. This anti-sleep rhetoric: especially evident for older workers (from 30-64), earning little, working multiple jobs, getting one or two hours night less per night than 60 years ago, suffering regularly from sleep deprivation due to the encroachment of work into leisure and proliferating blue-light emitting electronics; results in serious long-term health problems [Khazan, 2014]. Nevertheless, following the Japanese health ministry recommending working-age people take a nap of up to 30 minutes in the early afternoon, employers have encouraged ‘inemuri’, sleeping while present; the preserve of employees exhausted by hard work, rather than a sign of indolence [McCurry, 2015].

Overworking may result in the need for a coping mechanism, as the new BMJ study indicates “Employees who work more than 55 hours a week are 13% more likely to consume ‘risky’ levels of alcohol” [Merrill, 2015]. If work is inescapable, the individual facing “hour after hour of unpaid micro labor” [Galloway, 2012: 136] answering emails at home and working from mobile devices; then a chemical release may become desirable when the damage of the escape is seen as less than the mental cost of staying perpetually plugged into the post-Fordist Panopticon [Galloway, 2012: 108] workplace.

This environment designates that working mechanically as aspirational, having to break from labour to perform bodily functions shows weakness. Post-Fordism demands post-Humanism, “life beyond the ego-bound human” [Braidotti, 2013: 133] further weaving desire and identity into the core economic base and value chain [Galloway, 2012: 120]. Therefore, the mind, body and “the global city space requires and depends upon intelligent spaces of high-technological interactivity”, extending the self through “technologically mediated communication and knowledge transfer” [Braidotti, 2013: 179, 152] to cope with the tidal waves of information.
Whether through alcohol, mediated interaction, or virtual reality, “immersion has since become the mantra of modern escapist fantasy, […] the total eradication of self and reality beneath a superimposed fantasy” [Walter, 2013], a person may not simply drink to relieve their spirits, but to be swallowed by them. Ironically, the desire for an automaton work-ethic reflects a counter-Luddite attitude that throws the self into the machine, whilst the machine destroys manual labour. Deindustrialisation begets dehumanisation.

The German government “is considering new ‘anti-stress’ legislation, banning companies from contacting employees out of hours” [Stuart, 2014],  stating that “there is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness” [Nahles, 2014]. This may not be attributed exclusively to the concerns of employers for the wellbeing of their workers, or trade unions’ frequently-squandered efforts, but rather a reaction to the reduced efficiency of over-worked employees.
This extends to domestic technological interaction. Although “frequent internet and social media users do not have higher levels of stress,” socialised digital technology increases awareness of other peoples’ stress, which is connected to its increased levels. This “cost of caring” [Hampton, et al. 2015] evidences one of many negative consequences for greater information availability.


News: Overload as Censorship

Could the overload 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 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, the most powerful distributor of news becomes the “algorithm governing how items are displayed to the billion active users on Facebook”, not News Corp trucks or Tesco [Bell, 2014].

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 as tailoring fact to fit users and not an useful source of knowledge. Nevertheless, it is rich in meta-data, “used by people with socio-economic status & political knowledge” [Brundidge, 2008: 154] thereby over-informing the privileged, neglecting the genuine need for shared understanding, to be distributed and managed thoughtfully, transforming information into universal knowledge [Shenk, 1997: 170].

An overabundance of internationally transmitted news stories requires a genuine need to rely on  selective journalism to prioritise the overload, as information is not the commodity in short supply, attention is [Lanham, 2006: xi]. This limitation creates value [Broadbent, 2014], so 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 indifferently “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 authentic when flooded with images.

Artificial imagery ascertains verisimilitude 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 the 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 is allowed to undergo a process of alteration 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 [Colors, 2013: 38]. By filling newspapers with non-stories, banality, and a plastic reality, the Media may detract from unpopular stories. The overload is thereby politicised and apathy is created “to tame the bewildered herd” [Chomsky, 1997: 18]. When deliberately “buried in algorithmic censorship” [Tufekci, 2014] it is the Mediators and advertisers like Rupert Murdoch and politicians including Silvio Berlusconi who profit from directing the savours’ hand, unearthing individuals from the chaotic catacomb they crafted.


Feed: Pervasive Computing

The now discontinued Google Glass had the potential to be used to be another perennial  advertising and news medium. If heads-up-displays technologies become integrated into the networks of common living, they may becomes nexus for further social engineering. Escaping mass mediated images becomes decreasingly possible as everyday dependence on them grows. Technologies change, but the idea of pervasive media implanted in the periphery may prevail; as a compulsive socialising, advertising and information platform, reinforcing “the vastness of the ever-expanding social-media archives feeds the perception that there is always something, somewhere of potential interest if 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 memories, allowing other forms of knowledge to be developed. Much as the electric bulb succeeded man-made fire, smoke mirrors light pollution; data smog. Just as cities’ primordial vibrancy, sound and light, become pollutants – notifications crowd out contemplation [Silverman, 2015]. But it was not the people selling candles who invented the lightbulb. New Media always threaten to consume, destroy, and thereby remediate old media, such commercialism must not be overlooked. A reliance on the collective consciousness websites like Google and Wikipedia mimics the knowledge of the tribe, as a means to access greater bodies of information, building a prosthetic, collective memory.

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” [Colors, 2013: 60], suppressing 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]. The eye’s limited capacity makes it impossible to efficiently view 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, then more value may be placed on physical encounters if they appear more ‘real’ than the representational reality, even when 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.

Such ubiquitous computing carries “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.


https://i2.wp.com/elahi.umd.edu/elahi_sundance.jpg

Fig. 1 Hasan Elahi. (2008) Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project

Self-Surveillance: The Spiral of Silence

Surveillance artist Hasan Elahi’s work exposes his life in full, by allowing every movement to be tracked, accompanied by images of every location and interaction: [Fig. 1] filling the walls of a room with screen, illuminating the space with moving images. The deluge of data becomes meaningless due to its sheer volume [Farman, 2011: 70]. Elahi’s ongoing project addresses the sustained 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 wearing the same clothes in public every day deflates the market value of paparazzi photographs [Colors, 2013: 18]. By making access to information universal, as with any resource, it becomes deliberately  decommodified. 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 is described as the “spiral of silence” [Hampton, 2013], positing minority opinions go unexpressed in groups due to the fear of social isolation or reprisal. As this scenario spills-out from mediated forums, into in-person contexts [Wilson, 2014] of “a world filled with ‘citizen paparazzi,” not only can individuals expect a loss of privacy [Colors, 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].

Nevertheless, online social networking may illustrate surveillance; “as a mutual, empowering subjectivity building practice – is fundamentally social” [Albrechtslund, 2008]. Or the spiral of silence may contribute towards Western civilisation becoming like Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Last Man, an apathetic creature with no great passion or commitment. Unable to dream, tired of life, he takes no risks, seeking only comfort and security” [Žižek, 2015], television incarnate; indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy, life reduced to the common rubble of banality [The Network, 1976].

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, inadvertently instigating post-humanism, positioning profits at the centre; making online ‘neutrality’ mean ‘reinforces the status quo’ [Lewis, 2014].


Agnes

Fig. 2 Cécile B. Evans (2013) AGNES.

Glut: Spam

Cécile B. Evans’s AGNES [Fig 2] is the name given to a spam-bot commissioned to inhabit the Serpentine Gallery website, engaging users in conversation through basic multiple-choice questions. It presents them with various time-dependent associative narratives, creating the automaton’s train-of-thought dialogue with the user, by pulling information from online facilities like Google and Wikipedia, in addition to information from peer discussions. As Evans described in a workshop event, this creates a series of “uncanny juxtapositions” [Evans, 2013] between online objects, offering the audience a form of live video editing, an algorithmic performance of images, text and audio the user navigates through. 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; offering both an illusion of progress and of freedom. Thereby passing on the moral responsibility of choice and to represent the world and the human condition to the user [Weinbren, 1995].

In his essay The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia, H. G. Wells envisioned an authoritative, continually updated world encyclopaedia of knowledge as an electronic “World Brain” [Wells, 1938], 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 in part Wikipedia, for all its faults, fulfils this role. However, the organic mental structures of the brain are not being replicated artificially, but through selection by association rather than by indexing, and 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; narrative without direction, or hope for resolve.

The comparisons initiated by AGNES may occur naturally in face-to-face dialogue, but when they appear automated. 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 procedurally generated presentation suppress the humanity of its creation, reminding the viewer to “suspect the invisible [as] technology is everywhere […] that we cannot see it,” AGNES seeks to pass a “reverse-Turing Test” [Evans, 2013] and convince the audience that it is a machine, and not reveals its humanity, as discussion with the artist disclosed, “AGNES is me” [Evans, 2013]. The representation is interconnected with that which is represented, not only for individuals 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.

Counter to the perspective of Walter Benjamin, by repeatedly recreating the artwork online the post-media piece succeeds in creating a means of reproduction that sustains “its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” [Benjamin, 1936]. Every copy is made unique through remediated recontextualising; authenticity devoid of singular authorship.

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 mediums: 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, as the grammar between the mediums. However, it is for the user to establish their own hierarchy 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 may 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 isolated 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 realm. The overload of multiple identities may only be overcome by asserting the selective aspects of the self in different environments, since “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.


Real Virtuality

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 physically 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 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, this ephemerality contributes towards constant, self-conscious, recalibration of the public persona [Silverman, 2015].

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 of more than merely 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 the audience’s respond during its ‘exhibition’ (in AGNES’ words; for want for a better term) on the gallery website.

The website functions as an extension of the gallery, as profile does 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’ 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; the communities that they have integrated with may disintegrate.


Chapter 2: Constructing Self-identity

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Fig. 3 Stelarc (1980) Extended Arm

Cyborg Self

Online environments enable the “construction of self-identity” [Farman, 2011, 75] and an interweaving of multiple modes of the societal self; intermingling technological and face-to-face interactions. From the merging of ontological boundaries “the cyborg emerges, […] the hybridised organism that (con)fuses man and organism, […] physical matter and non-physical information” [Luke, 2000: 40]. Shenk describes becoming dependent on his laptop, life without it utterly terrifying, identifying as a “Mac-person” [Shenk, 1997: 68]. Such subtle cybernetic realisations may explicitly evidence the self-made man-machine, resulting 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” [Zylinska, 2002: 87]. In [Fig. 3] he 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: 114, 139], it allows 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 threefold, a cybernetic interaction, locating himself within his body and that of the artifice. By extending 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. Social media posits humans as secondary products to their resulting meta-databases. This less narcissistic approach, relating people more to their animal position, acknowledges that information overload may be a product of super-human technologies. However, this may only be  directly applicable to sections of the educated populous of developed nations.
Stelarc could be seen to extend himself into the world in proprioceptively, extending the being-in-the-world beyond the physical limits of the body [Farman, 2011: 31] to realise human potential. Whereas Shenk’s machine use is described more as a means of efficiently maximising mental faculties. Where the notepad records static thoughts, the Mac fluidly assists the contemplation process, 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 enables individuals to expand their social connections over greater geographical limits than humanly possible. 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, creating seemingly authentic experiences of human proximity.


Everyday Overload: Noise

Although the Information Society’s subjects engage with a growing complexities of activities 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.

Farman noted, “embodiment depends on the cognitive unconscious,” in order to place the self in the world, individuals must remain ignorant to the vast majority of their surroundings, to avoid the senses being overwhelmed; as all sounds in a room become equally important, individual conversations become problematic [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.

Whatever is heard is mostly noise [Cage, 1937: 3-6] but in the era of unlimited information, mediation means “there is no ambient noise except by choice”, people may create their own bubbles to reduce the overload to acceptable levels, inducing 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 provenance, impractically detailed. Locative social media emphasise site-specificity, reiterating alterity to simulate a sense of emplacement [Farman, 2011: 61]. Although their use is minimal; only 4% of mobile users engaging with locative media in 2010 [Zickuhr; 2010], they can serve as ballast against the tide of information, entwining online abstraction with the physical, linear structure.


Möbius Ouroboros

The Feed is a state of constant renewal. Whereas Ouroboros firmly clamps its tail in its jaws forming 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. Without being able to establish order within the tumultuous miasma of everyday interactions with socialised information technology, the linear folds inwards. “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] as a constantly expanding möbius engulf’s individuals’ chaotic narratives, furthered by the unending archive of their online existence, granting a form of immortality in life without conclusion, everybody walking parallel on one treadmill.

The world stages itself for static-tourists’ eyes “created from specific information keyboarded by master illusionists:” smartphones, cars, and various made objects and images “find their beginning and central reality in computer assisted design and manufacture” [Lanham, 2006: 2, 5]. 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 revolving Revolutions, never establishing new order, only refreshing the existing hierarchies. “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 mediator may induce a kinaesthetic response without the need to engage critical progress. The chaos of the overload may cause social disorder, allowing control to be established by redirecting the noise, confining the masses to the most politically desirable frequency, “disguised as meaningful information” [Shenk, 1997: 188], society is condemned to knowing no alternative.

The population, crying out “please, at least leave us along in our living rooms” [The Network, 1976], 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 for individuals and the 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 Fahrenheit 451, the destruction of the linear in the form of the book filters in to the illusion of progress in the characters’ discourse. They have been crammed so “full of noncombustible data, chocked so dammed full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information they feel a sense of motion without moving” [Bradbury, 1953: 61]. Their only frame of reference is the television, with its soap-opera format, which is continuity renewed 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 information as users consume compulsively like gluttonous rodents ignorantly fattening in a cage of their own making. Should this ‘Tangled Hierarchy’ of perpetual renewal be disturbed, then users may invoke the death throws of Jörmungandr in the sea of information at Ragnarök; their last pace, doom in cyberspace.


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Fig. 4 Rollin Leonard (2013) 360o/18 Lilia

360o

Like a photomontage or fragmented portrait, in 360o/18 Lilia [Fig. 4] the multifaceted individual exists as references to numerous external perspectives, as no one has only one identity, everyone identifies with multiple groups, multiple identities [Lawler, 2008: 3]. Individuals’ representational discourse is influenced by mediation and re-contextualisation, becoming incomprehensible when alienated.  Montages’ isolated images are a transplanted product of their environment, but images are limited to the medium that store it; the loop circumvents this problem by extrapolating through repetitive watching, with each encounter informing the next. Whereas “the Photograph immobilizes a rapid scene in its decisive instant” [Barthes, 1980: 33], [Fig. 4] becomes non-static interconnected hyper-image; once embedded online, externally linking further information and internally referencing the other frames within the sequence, forming an absolute picture.

The piece explores remediated photographic reprocessing, responding to the digital mediation of bodily representations, producing a digital uncanny [Hunt, 2011: 55] of identifiably human manipulations. Animating still images forms 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 medium, disrupting the data behind the 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, it is dehumanised by dynamism as the motion is unnatural, unlike the familiar formats of linear film or static photograph that 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], actively 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], or rather the metadata is the message. 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 with the great experience of new media, they have no beginning, middle or end; there is no narrative arc to the “absolute” [Zuboff, 2014] Google, no measurable breadth for Facebook, or climactic resolution for Twitter: for the everyday interactions of the public, “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, simply 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 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 the 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 memory (RAM) [Manovich, 2001: 78]. Consumption may become structured compulsively; atypical data debris, 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. Steyerl observed, “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 inferred by how “we are the stories we tell ourselves” [Kapur, 2009], it may be arguable 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 be understood as being not just an extension of the self in the imperfect, filtered reflection of cyberspace, “life beyond the ego-bound human” [Briadotti, 2013: 133]; but also as being symbiotic.

As users upload more pictures of themselves, a great digital portrait of them is built up; simultaneously this may alter the perception of oneself; 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 between the physical and digital self; the virtual – reality binary may be disregarded due to constant interrelationship within the multifaceted individual.

The user does not simply become their mask, they are a collection of beings, a mosaic, and interconnection between their tiles defines them. Crucially, individuals exist in their internal-relationships 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 text and photographic representations contrast to the lived experience, as the phenomenology of the archive differs from the memory, linear events do not necessarily remain so in the mind. Deviations from the linear enable progress over monotony.


Chapter 3: Compression

Knowledge Acquisition

As Bloom stated, 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, thus a greater reliance on easily edited materials over social understanding, and a learned helplessness [Diener, 1978].

Broadbent describes how “one of the first things children are taught is to pay attention” [Broadbent, 2014]. Yet former Education Secretary Michael Gove’s education policy demonstrated retrogression towards a Dickensian grotesque of learning as a means of installing facts, facts, facts into the minds of the populous. Thereby “focusing on the mechanics of transmitting the most compelling information of the moment” [Shenk, 1997: 169], neglecting the necessity for tailored attention through focused teaching, rather than simply telling. Unmoderated, Libertarian education would crush students under unilateral, utilitarian walls of information. Teaching without learning is empty speech. It is focus, not diffusion that brings knowledge [Shenk, 1997: 174]. Egalitarian attention is autism.

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 beyond the Profile Picture. It also encourages an adherence to the norm, as Chomsky deducted, “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 functionality, otherwise the world should buffer indefinitely. Remediated materials may loose information incrementally with each transition between media, but the anxiety surrounding mediated information exchange is ancient.  For Plato’s fear that “reading gave us the illusion of knowledge” [Farman, 2011: 133] was that any proxy communication beyond the immediate was somehow false.

Filtering incurs a loss of meaning. 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’ American Lifestyle Clusters’ 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-detection.
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; drones and Google alike, 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.


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Fig. 5 Félix González-Torres (1991) “Untitled”

Absence, Silence

In Félix González-Torres “Untitled” billboard piece (1991) [Fig. 5] 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. 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], thereby depicting deceased figures indirectly through visual allegory. This work displayed on public billboards in American cities makes explicit what is missing: the figure has been removed. By deliberately showing what is missing, [Fig 5] embodies the duality of a photograph as both pseudo-presence and token of absence [Sontag, 1997: 16]. Even its un-titling gives absence a presence, citing the unseeable, giving voice to ghosts.

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. Audiences are involved involuntarily through inaction; through choosing to not look, share, or appear uninvolved. Equally, to pause and visually engage does not exclude movement, but dwelling “is the practice of a particular kind of movement” [Farman, 2011: 140], turning a blind eye to the imposing billboard is a participatory action and is not passive. Ignorance is acceptance of the banal advertising platform hijacked in [Fig 5], images 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.

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 the effort to rectify this erroneous situation is minimal, than the overload could be seen as a highly effective means of generating inertia, directing attention away from non-profitable enterprises, such as charity.

As former Italian president and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi observed “reality offers too many occasions that cause anxiety,” but rather resolving the anxiety causing issues, he proposes that his “will be an optimistic television” [Colors, 2013: 46]. Bombarding the public with positive imagery distracts from stimulating political reform, “you don’t pay any 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 attention and the flow of information to control the population. He “was given almost three times more ‘talking time’ on his own news program […] than rival candidates” [Colors, 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. Should this strategy be globalised, it could be seen that the general populous may face Sontag’s prediction of “another kind of dictatorship, whose master idea is ‘the interesting,’ in which images of all sorts, stereotyped and eccentric, proliferate” [Sontag, 1977: 178].


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 heteroglossia 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 premise 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 totally susceptible to the control it may exert.


Privacy

The primary goal of social media is not to better connect people for their own benefit but to commercialise their users, so “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]. Users reconstitute personal narrative into commercial potential, as “mental states are […] highly commodifiable” [Scourti, 2014]. 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 further nichification of the Web, by rewarding them with highly specific information on those interests, as well as electronic interactions with others sharing those interests [Shenk, 1997: 128] deliberately limiting their area of activity, making them more into quantifiable products. Information becomes more distributed and less navigable, encouraging specialisation, cultural compression; the routine becomes inescapably sacrosanct. The personalisation of consumption does not equate to the production of individuality, though it may evidence it.
Zukerberg declared that “connectivity is a human right” [Warman, 2014], but uses that connectivity for personal profit. The Newsfeed convinces users that they are the news; that they are the event, that they can use their voice [Baudrillard, 1983: 53], contributing more data pollution. Eli Noam noted “almost anybody can add information. The difficult question is how to reduce it” [Shenk, 1997, 181]. Informational privacy, the right to selective disclosure [Van Dijk, 1991: 100], is self-moderation, algorithmic filtration its counterpart. GCHQ’s Rober Hannigan’s announcement, “privacy has never been an absolute right” [Quinn, 2014] endorses Consequentialism, imploring anti-self-regulation.

Nevertheless, perhaps “privacy is an archaic term when used in reference to depositing information online”, as an information science professional responded in recent PEW survey [Rainie, 2014]. Privacy, like sleep, may simply represent that which is not yet commodified. Until social media blackmail its users, threatening disclosure of data to insurance companies, government agencies or other 3rd-parties with vested interests. Sleep is sacrificed for reward, escape and nondisclosure becomes a valuable commodity as privacy is increasingly exchanged for convenience and services,

The willing 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 neo-Libertarianism with minimal public infrastructure, benefitting existing plutocracies and “niche groups who would prefer that government not interfere with their pursuits of wealth. […] The Net is not literally a new world vested with its own sovereignty; it is a new […] facet of society” [Shenk, 1997: 174, 206].


Democratising Attention

The mass distribution of information does not necessarily instigate a democratisation of knowledge and a levelling of societies’ power structures, but rather a “diffusion of attention” [Broadbent, et al. 2014] and an overload producing 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 invokes the freedom to overload others.

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 for profit. 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 weary to how they may be misdirected when surrendering control of the information flow to a third-party.

Jones said that “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 it remains the UK’s default service, being visited 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 navigation tool, Google, alters search results, and Amazon changes which products are shown based on meta-data [Hern, 2014]. This could be of serious political concern 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, mediation and regulation 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. 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 sublime indifference to the “banality of evil” [Arendt, 1963] may mechanise institutionalised genocide, requiring 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 use the format as a means of staying connected with remote individuals: supplementing face-to-face interactions, sustaining communication-relationships, regardless of distracting, antagonistic environments.


Fig. 6 Evan Roth (2013) Internet Cache Self Portrait

Ego-Archive

Shenk noted that “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. ‘“Pics or it didn’t happen’ – that is the populist mantra of the social networking age,” enacting Garry Winogrand’s maxim, “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed” [Silverman, 2015]. Users document and share the evidence of their consumption to experience the sensation of distribution, satisfying an irresistible urge as frictionless sharing; disclosing everything, always, completely, becomes personhood, “reading itself becomes directed outward” [Silverman, 2015]. This ongoing process 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 and 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 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].

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 paralleling Moore’s Law [Chacos, 2013] whilst distorting the hierarchy of info-influx, much as Leonard warps of the continuum of the figure, when “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]. Young peoples’ use is not naïve, rather pragmatic to their developing environment. Meta-media based marketing prioritises communications for data-mining, profiteering “conspicuous consumption” [Petridis, 2014] through quantifying consumers’ interrelationships; monetising the endless, unstructured collection images, and 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 is comprehensible immediately becoming obsolete [Qadiri, 2014]. Facebook’s Newsfeed only shows as much about a person as they wish to share, which may have little bearing 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: modified quickly and combined with other images, shared instantly and inserted into multimedia documents [Manovich, 2013: 62]. Every photograph may be inauthentic, or an undesirable misrepresentation and the exceptional events may be more thoroughly documented than the routine, thus skewing the historical self-perspective. Hence Silvio Berlusconi buys the rights to all unflattering photographs of himself [Colors, 2013: 46]. 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 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 [Colors, 2013: 54] and destabilising infrastructure. The power of the explosion is secondary to the multimedia shockwave [Virilio, 1983, 174-175]. Similarly, GCHQ regards data attacks as a “Tier One threat to national security”, having recently started “a new Cyber Incident Response scheme […] to help organisations recover from a cyber security attack” [Cabinet Office, 2014].

With David Cameron demanding that “Britain’s intelligence agencies should have the legal power to break into the encrypted communications of suspected terrorists” [Watt, et al. 2015] following well-publicised cases of civilian militancy. Nick Clegg criticised the hypocrisy of defending freedom of expression whilst advocating “a huge encroachment on the freedom of all British citizens” [Watt, et al. 2015]. Exploiting the perception of threat to instigate greater data retention. Until recently, seven years of GCHQ’s bulk electronic communication interception has been disputably declared a breach of Articles 6 [Griffin, 2015], 8, and 10 of the EU Human Rights legislation by The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, as the processes and safeguards were not available to the public domain [Bowcott, 2015]. This deliberate mass consumption of public information thusly becomes politically problematic, especially if human rights are subjugated by governments asserting an anti-anthropocentric hierarchy. Positing control of information over individual domination. Further weaponising mediation against the civilian populous.

When entire departments are required to deal with informational threats, civilians rely on Media to protect their personal sovereignty, it becomes clear why algorithms are employed to analyse ‘pattern of life’ surveillance, when within one campaign, the USA collected 327,384 hours of drone video transmissions [Colors, 2013: 11]. There is an overabundance of banal media, for both man and machine.


Conclusion

Developments in communication technologies enable greater information exchange, expanding communities and creating the possibility for a 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 organise exponential communications into a navigable format.

Order begets hierarchy, one which transforms the broadcasting high-priest into the personalised bible. Media structure chaos in its image, its 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.

Damming communications with overabundant information forces users to alter their path; mediation is manipulation, so it 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 too eagerly from Útgarða-Loki’s horn. Consumed by consumption, and greedy for praise [Lanham, 2006: 10-11], social media’s attention overload may submerge individuals in self-made banality. Unilaterally leaving editing to algorithms [Bell, 2014] amplifies Media’s contamination of the data-stream. Nevertheless, stemming the tide with regulated automation is necessary, as society establishes itself around new media. Or the seeds of doubt may be sewn with delirium, the confusing medley of conflicting media messages bombard the masses, ‘gas-lighting’ them, so they doubt the reality they see before them, and grow increasingly dependent on a controlled, establishment approved perspective.

As 22 million (84%) UK households now have access to the Internet [ONS, 2014] it plays an increasing role in everyday interactions with torrents of data. It has enabled remediated hybrids of instantaneous international face-to-face communications; Socratic dialogue superseding the broadcast television and telephone. Unlimited by time e-forums facilitate users’ experience of the rapidly shifting focus between simultaneous multi-facet exchanges, establishing order over the increasingly complex information. Edison’s incandescent bulb initiated the death of sleep and the cult of deprivation [Khazan, 2014], but now it is McLuhan’s electric light of pure information [McLuhan, 1964: 8] turned super-nova by Moore’s Law which remains unalterably switched on.

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, not dissolve into one unidentifiable mass. Individuals may look directly at the noise, not past it [Kahn, 1999: 28], as 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 mediums.

Shenk maintained “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 data, whilst giving greater meaning to acutely distributed attention and unmediated interactions. As Richten asks, “since all media inevitably change us, how do we want to be changed?” [Richten, 2013: 6] Overabundant information may intermittently overload the senses, but it is the product of a society eager to share knowledge.

Word Count: 11,044


Glossary of Terms

Age of Mechanised Mass-Media Reproduction: A play on the title of Walter Benjamin’s frequently quoted, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, here it refers to the advent of mass-media, particularly in the wake of Post-Modernism. See also: Post-Fordism

AGNES: The spam bot created by Cécile B. Evans, hosted on the Serpentine Gallery website, activated by clicking on an icon of two hands in a circle, then navigated by clicking through multiple choices, different looping gestures dependent on the time and location the user accessed the site. See also: Cécile B. Evans.

Anti-Self-Regulation: A system of regulating which actively discourages individuals to decide their own criteria for moderation.

Attention Economy: Principal proposed by Richard A. Lanham, in which individuals’ attention has become the scarce resource, so is now the primary commodity. In contrast with the information economy, where information is traded, but overabundant.

Autism: A neurodevelopment disorder affecting and often impairing social interaction, communication and behaviour, which usually become evident in childhood. Here it refers to the sensory affects often associated with autism. See also: Autistic Hypersensitivity.

Autistic Hypersensitivity: Referring to the increased sensory awareness that may be associated with some forms of autism, ASD and/or Aspergers. This may involve experiencing all the sounds within one room on an equal level, with the individual unable to prioritise specific sounds within their hearing range, such as a particular voice in a crowd. See also: Autism

Avatar: Within computing this may refer to a graphical embodiment of a character created by the user, a persona or alter-ego. Notable examples include the characters played by users within videogames, such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, with which the user may develop a pseudonymous association, in order to interact with other individuals in that sphere of play, the ‘Magic Circle’; the membrane enclosing a social and/or fantasy environment.

Banality of Evil: A phrase coined by Hannah Arendt to refer to the distancing of Eichmann to his action during the holocaust, referring to how such actions are not exceptionally difficult to be undertaken and tolerated by the individual initiating them, if they maintained a professional separation. Here, it refers how an overload of information may force the individual to distance themselves from what the are seeing into to function within society.

Big Brother: The antagonistic ever-watching figure in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, frequently used a shorthand to refer to a system of perpetual surveillance as a means of control. See also: Panopticon.

Black Mirror: Channel Four television series written by Charlie Brooker

BMJ: The British Medical Journal.

Capitalist-Productivist: A society in which the economic production and growth is prioritised over other social development. See also: Neo-Capitalist.

Cécile B. Evans: Belgian-American artist who created AGNES, whose work often involves dealing with issues of technology and the individual. With whom I participated in the Black Swans and Missed Representations workshop at the Wysing Arts Centre, as well as seeing her give a lecture at the same location for Futurecamp 1: How We Act Now: Psychology and Behaviour in the Digital Age, in addition to a talk she gave at the NUA Lecture Theatre, and have seen her work in a number of exhibitions. See also: AGNES.

Claritas’ American lifestyle clusters: Also known as the Claritas Prizm or Nielsen PRIZM, is a set of commercial geo-demographic segments in the US, based on census data collect in 1976.

Commodifiable: Something that may be made into a commodity, that which can be traded and be part of a wider economic system.

Consequentialism: A class of theories that designate that consequences are the basis for judging action, often associated with Utilitarianism. This philosophy may be understood simply as ‘The ends justify the means’, a simplification of Demosthenes principal that ‘Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final issue.’

Conspicuous Consumption: The active demonstration of an individuals commercial interactions, openly indicating an individual’s consumption, particularly referring to economic investments. See also: Planned Obsolescence.

Cud: The half-digested food matter that is chewed and repeated regurgitated by some pasture animals. The phrase ‘to chew the cud’ is often used to mean ‘to ponder over’ something, though here refers to repeatedly partially digesting information; similarly to chewing gum, never gaining any nutritional benefits but performing the necessary actions.

Cyberspace: A term popularised by William Gibson in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, referring to an electronically composed social environment within a computational networking, into which an individual may interact directly with data, as opposed to physical matter (in ‘Meatspace’). See also: Avatar, Cyborg, De-Territorialize.

Cyborg: A cybernetic organism that fuses the human body with technology, whether through biometric components inserted into the body, or more abstractly in terms of extending the body through the uses of technology. See also: Avatar, Cyberspace, Post-Humanism, Stelarc.

Data Smog: The notion that an over abundance of information is a potential metaphorical pollutant, that serves as an obscuring layer of background noise. The phrase comes from David Shenk’s 1997, Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut, which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004. See also: Information Overload.

David Cameron: The British Prime Minister for the Conservative Party at the time of writing, elected in 2010.

De-Territorialize: To remove the territorial subjectivity within Capitalist cultures, refraining from being embedded within a globalised structure. Deriving from a concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus.

Decommercialise: To remove the commercial associations with a subject, abstaining it from an economic structure or other potential financial associations. See also: Commodifiable

Deconstructed/Deconstruction: Philosophical and literary analysis developed by Jacques Derrida, in which the semiotics or components of a subject is foregrounded alongside how it is mediated. It may also refer to taking something apart to understand its substance, as a counterpoint to construction, in which objects are assemble to give them a unified meaning (putting bricks together to make a house), deconstruction requires the disassembling of a subject matter in order to provide it with meaning or greater understanding, both of the constant parts and overall subject (taking apart the house to understand the home)

Ebb and Flow: The alternating phases of tidal movement which may be used idiomatically to refer to things that may happen without the need for interaction, comparable to ‘wax and wane’, that which fluctuates in form revolving routinely.

Egalitarian: The belief in the unifying equality of peoples, here used to mean all subjects are to be understood as equal; comparable to an existentialism of objects.

Egalitarian attention: The positioning of various levels of attention at the same level, flattening an attention hierarchy; perceiving all subjects within the same focal depth. See also: Egalitarian.

Electric Light of Pure Information: A reinterpretation of Marshall McLuhan’s phrase “the electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message” [McLuhan, 1964: 8].

Empire the Size of a Provenance: Referring to Jorge Luis Borges allegory, ‘On Exactitude in Science’, describing the problematic the principal of having a map of a subject so large it engulfs the subject itself; a description greater than that which is being described.

EU Human Rights Legislation, Articles: 6, 8, 10: Referring to the 1998 Human Rights act that declares the rights individuals are entitled to, which the government of nations must be accountable to. Article 6: Right to a fair trial. Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life. Article 10: Freedom of expression. GCHQs actions may also be considered an infringement of Article 9: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, though this is not being specifically referenced here and within the specific cited materials.

Facebook: An online social networking service, or ‘social media’. It is currently the most widely used social network with approximately 2.2 billion users, owned by Facebook Inc. Mark Zuckerberg was a co-founder of Facebook, and is the current Chairman and CEO. See also: Facebook Inc.

Facebook Inc.: The corporation that owns Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus VR, PrivateCore, and a range of other subsidiaries and investments. See also: Facebook.

Facts, facts, facts: A popularly known phrase stemming from the remarks of the character of Gradgrind in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, referring to an education system focused entirely on the utilitarian principal of teaching as a means of filling the heads of children with exclusively quantifiable information, with a disregard for anything deemed unproductive or illogical irrelevant by the education body. Not to be confused with Tony Blair’s call for ‘Education, education, education’ as a means of promoting social mobility through Meritocracy, rather than tackling the core issues at the basis of a socially unequal society, thereby deferring the blame for the problems of society from its Government to the lowest and least educated people. See also: Meritocratic.

Fahrenheit 451: A dystopian novel by Ray Bradury, set in a vision of a future American society in which ‘firemen’ burn all outlawed books, the title of which refers to the temperature at which book paper burns.

Flash Gordon: Referring to the 1980 film adaptation of the Flash Gordon comic.

Flotsam and Jetsam: Forms of refuse or shipwreck. Flotsam is floating wreckage or cargo. Jetsam is materials thrown overboard that wash ashore. May be used figuratively to means miscellaneous items.

Fool’s Play: A minor play within a plat conducted by the clowns in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Prince of Denmark.

Frankenstein’s monster: The fictional nameless monster composed of various amalgamated body parts animated by the infusion of electricity into its cadaver. From Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus.

Free-Market: An economic systems where prices for commodities and services are determined freely by sellers, as part of a wider Capitalistic system. See also: Capitalist-Productivist

Garry Winogrand: An American street photographer.

GCHQ: The Government Communications Headquarters, the British Intelligence and Security agency that deals with cryptography and surveillance. See also: NSA.

Glitch: An unexpected distortion usually associated with deviations in computer code causing a disruptive effect in a program, which may result in an audio/video outcome; a moment of slippage usually associated with technology, resulting in an uncanny fault.

Google: Multinational technology company most prominently known for its widely used search engine, that also holds such subsidiaries as YouTube, Blogger, and various other companies. The co-founder and current CEO being Larry Page.

Google Glass: A wearable technology containing a basic computer and optical head-mounted display (OHMD), currently being developed by Google and manufactured by Foxconn; which is yet to be commercially released to the public. See also: Google, Heads-Up-Display.

H. G. Wells: English writer, particularly known for his science-fiction and essays.

Hasan Elahi: Multimedia artist whose work focuses on technology within society, particularly surveillance.

Heads-Up-Displays (HUD): A means of displaying data on a transparent surface without obstructive the eye-line, particularly used in reference to aviation navigation equipment, as well as the on-screen interface within video games.

Heterogeneous: A material or image composed of a nonuniform structure.

Heteroglossia: A range of subjects, values, and distinct varieties that coexist within a single unifying language.

Hypermediacy: The foregrounded presence of a media, ands an acute awareness of the various levels of mediation of a subject (which may be associated with a post-modern self-awareness). The principal of which is discussed in Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin’s Remediation.

Idealist Ontology: This is the study of being from a perspective, which “argues that reality is constructed by the mind. Consciousness does not arise from material interactions, it is universal; and from consciousness arises all of the material phenomena in the universe, including atoms. The world is not made of atoms. It is made of the stories we tell about atoms” [Walter, Damien, 2013].

Immersion: To be deeply involved or totally engulfed, when used in a technological context refers to the perception of the self becoming embodied in a non-physical world. See also: Virtual Reality.

Information Oligopoly: An oligopoly is a system within which a few firms dominate, similar to a monopoly. In conduction with ‘information’, this refers to a situation in which a small group of firms control the vast majority of the communication media and information exchange. See also: Google, News Corp, Oligopoly.

Information Overload: A situation in which an individual, societal structure, or system may be encumbered by the presence of too much information, whether this is a perceived, phenomenological hinderance, or a systematic disruption (such as a DoS/DDoS – denial-of-service cyber-attack that deliberately overloads a computer network server). See also: Autism, Data Smog.

Instagram: An online, cross-platform, photo/video-sharing social network. Particularly noted for the use of basic image filters/effects, appropriating a range of cinema-graphic aesthetics, notable that of the rapidly developing analogue films of the Kodak Instamatic and Polaroid cameras. Created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the company is now owned and developed by Facebook. See also: Facebook Inc.

Internet Cache: The catalogue of temporary files downloaded by users automatically whilst browsing the web, containing basic information and content from the sites visited, meaning webpages reload faster. See also: Meta-Data.

Jörmungandr: The world encompassing Midgard Serpent from Norse Mythology who grasped his own tail in his mouth, an Ouroboros, who was Thor’s nemesis, slain at the end of the world by this figure, who then took nine paces and died. See also: Ouroboros, Ragnarök, Tangled Hierarchy.

Kinaesthetic/Kinaesthesia: An awareness of bodily movement through proprioceptive sensory organs; a sense of locomotion.

Last Man: The existential figure proposed by Friedrich Nietzsche, indicating humanity devoid of any motive to live, only existing to be and to continue being.

Libertarianism: The political believe that liberty, autonomy, and free choice is the primary objective of society. See also: Neo-Libertarianism.

Liking/Like: When specified, this refers a tool for showing appraisal on the social media website, Facebook, by means of clicking a ‘like’ button below a relevant post; a format shared with various online formats.

Luddite: Textile artisans who opposed the mechanisation of the industry and loss of labour jobs for the working classes of Britain in the 19th Century. Frequently used as a slur for one who rejects new technology on the exclusive basis of being new, rather then referring to the protests of the Luddites as a result of the loss of livelihood due to technological change.

Mac: Apple Macintosh Computer

Madonna: Here refers to the popular American entertainer, musician and businesswoman, not the depiction of Mary mother of Jesus in art.

Masses/The Masses/The People: The majority of those people who do not benefit from any major societal privileges, the proletariat, the so-called working and lower-middle classes. In other words, the non-bourgeoisie. Those people, identified as one collective body, whose primary concerns are those at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Mechanical Turk: Also known as ‘The Turk’ was a fake chess-playing machine from the 18th century made by Wolfgang von Kempelen, which involved an individual hiding within the facade of a machine, and moving the pieces from within.

Media/media/The Media: Throughout this essay Media or The Media refers Mass-Media organisations, and the uncapitalised media referring to broadcast mediums and materials through which meaning is exchanged.

Mediator: The individuals, companies and corporations whom control and own the various mediums; television, newspapers, websites, et al. This may also refer to an anthropomorphic embodiment of the media. See also: Facebook, Google, Instagram, News Corp, Plato’s Cave, Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi.

Meritocratic: A political principal that designates power according to merit.

Meta-Data: Data about data, here referring to temporary Internet files, cookies et al. and the information that can be gathered from the structures that govern their relationships. See also: Internet Cache.

Möbius: The Möbius strip is a one-sided looping shape, often used to symbolise the notion of infinity written as ‘∞’. See also: Ouroboros.

Monitiesed: When a subject is converted into that which can be used within an economic system to generate profit. See also: Commodifiable, Decommercialise.

Moore’s Law: This refers to the observation by Gordon E. Moore, that over the history of computing the number of transistors in a computer circuit has roughly double every two years, though can be more openly interpreted to mean that the computing power doubles every two years.

Multifaceted Individual: The self with many facets, many faces, in the overlapping physical and digital environments.

Multidirectional Relationality: A means of understanding a structure that does not emerge linearly, but more in line with what Deleuze and Guattari might term ‘rhizomorphic’, emerging and establishing connections and links between categories of subject matter.

Myopia: Short-sightedness.

Neo-Capitalist: An economic ideology that combines traditional Capitalism with new forms or understandings of structures, here referring to the amalgamation of Capitalistic-Consumerist concepts with the technological potential of digital and electronic developments within a contemporary setting, neo-Conservative practices, and other Right-Wing principles. See also: Capitalist-Productivist.

Neo-Cubist: An art form that makes reference to the aesthetic properties of Cubism, but reinterprets their use, and appropriates their style, in order to produce new imagery, outside of Cubism, but within a shared visual framework, such as the use of multiple-perspectives, harsh angular forms, and other abstract qualities of the movement.

Neo-Democracy: A political belief that Democracy is no longer self-sustaining, so must rely on new or alternative means of survival. See also: Neo-Liberalism, Neo-Libertarianism.

Neoliberalism: An economic system that favours Free markets, Privatisation, and Deregulation; usually associated with Right wing politics. See also: Neo-Libertarianism.

Neo-Libertarianism: A combination of Libertarian and Neoconservative political philosophies, which favours Neoliberal economics, in addition to broader social liberalism. This includes supporting Freedom of Speech, a more liberal attitude to drug criminalisation, sexual equality, and a broader range of issues (Neoliberalism and Neolibertarianism are often used interchangeably). See also: Capitalist-Productivist, Free-Market, Libertarianism, Neo-Captalist.

News Corp: A split away American multination media company from the The News Corporation, founded by Rupert Murdoch, in association with 21st Century Fox, owning a large range of media outlets and publishers. See also: Rupert Murdoch.

Newsfeed/newsfeed/News Feed/The Feed: A form of News Aggregator, the Newsfeed feature a rolling format particularly favoured by social media sits like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, consisting of hypertext and images posted in series. When capitalised here it is primarily used to refer to Facebook’s Newsfeed, or more broadly to the format when in lowercase, or just as The Feed when not especially making reference to news-related materials. It may also be written not as two separate words to make particular reference to the metaphorical act of consuming information. See also: Facebook.

Nichification: The subdividing of criteria into niches, highly specialised areas of interest.

Nick Clegg: The British Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister at the time of writing, elected in 2010.

Noeme: A unit of perceived thought, the meaning which is attributed to a subject, the idea behind a name.

NSA: The National Security Agency of the United States of America, the department of the American government that deals with surveillance. The US equivalent of GCHQ.

Ofcom: The Office of Communications is a British regulatory corporation that deals with the communication industries, appointed by the UK Government.

Oligopoly: A political or market system in which a small number or collection of individuals, organisations, or groups may dominate a hierarchical structure, whether that be an economy, political order, or otherwise, though it is typically associated with fiscal institutions. Similar to a monopoly, where the power is held by one individual/group, but divided amongst a select few. See also: Neo-Democracy.

ONS: The Office for National Statistics is a British agency and non-ministerial department that reports directly to the UK Government.

Ontological/Ontology: The study of being, existence, and/or reality.

Ouroboros: A serpent clutching its tail forming a circle, and one perfect, undying being. Often used metaphorically to refer to that which renews itself, an ongoing, revolving subject. See also: Jörmungandr.

Pandemonium: The capital city of Hell in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which can be used to mean chaotic, discordant, or otherwise Hellish.

Panopticon: An architectural means of control, established by Jeremy Bentham, as a means of maximising the monitoring capability of a small number of guards within a circular prison system with a central tower, that could at any point in time be watching any of the prison cells organised around it, but the prisoners could never be certain if they are being watched, as the central tower is darkened behind glass. This was intended to be a means of rehabilitating prisoners, as the constant fear of being watched would become internalised, so they would be psychologically unable to commit criminal acts, due to perpetual paranoia. However, this overlooks key factor that much crime is driven by need, poverty, and powerlessness, it is rarely an active choice by those imprisoned for practicing it. The Panopticon system is now used in a range of prisons, hospitals, and architectural structures, but could also been seen to be evident in a neo-Liberal system of constant informational exposure online through social media, as a means of establishing further self-regulation. See also: Neoliberalism, Spiral of Silence.

Pareidolic: Random stimuli or forms that appear significant, particularly in reference to anthropomorphic inanimate objects, things that resemble faces, et al.

Pattern of Life Surveillance: The monitoring of individuals en masse conducted to reveal suspicious behaviour, such as that carried about by the US military by drones in the Middle East, using a combination of human observations and algorithmic analysis, interpreting individuals’ movements and crowd dynamics, to indicate anything worth investigating further, or killing.

Pervasive Computing: The inclination towards the increasing integration of computer technologies into all aspects of everyday lives, which may also be referred to as ‘ubiquitous computing’ and may be associated with ‘the Internet of things’, that posits that all objects may eventually be connected to a digital network.

PEW/Pew Research Center: American nonpartisan think tank, dealing with social issues, demographics, and public concerns.

Phenomenological Relationships: The relationships and social connections between individuals associated with a focus on the sensory experience of the peoples in question, whether that be seeing, hearing or otherwise feeling the presence of another person first hand. See also: Representational Familiarity.

Phenomenology: The study of experience and consciousness of the environment through the self.

Planned Obsolescence: Products which are designed to become obsolescent or break within a limited time, so that that they may be replace. See also: Capitalist-Productivist, Neo-Capitalist.

Plato’s Cave: The Allegory of the Cave; in which individuals are imprisoned in a cave and shown only shadows of the world, when one prisoner is released and sees the light and forms of the world he returns to tell his former fellow prisoners what he saw, but they cannot believe him, for it is beyond their realm of comprehension. May be used to refer to the substitution of reality for a simulation. See also: Virtual Reality, Zone of Proximal Development.
Post-Anthropocentric: To propose a comprehension of the world without humanity at its centre; not from a human perspective. As opposed to anthropocentrism, which posits humanity at the centre of understanding the world, post-anthropocentrism involves approaching understanding whilst considering the mediocrity principle and the existentialist notion that the meaning humanity assigns itself and the world around it is fundamentally arbitrary, and must be questioned to further comprehension of the environment not regarding people as any more significant than any other element. See also: Post-Humanism.

Post-Fordism: The socio-economic system following Fordism, incorporating new principals of production and consumption associated with the technological developments from the 20th century onwards. Rather then just compartmentalising labour, it is woven into every aspect of life (for the worker). And goes alongside the development of a Neo-Capitalism, and the move from mass production for the masses to the specialising of consumer goods, and more flexible production practices. See also: Capitalist-Productivist, Neo-Capitalist, Planned Obsolescence, Neo-Liberalism.

Post-Humanism: The principal that it is possible for a person to exist in a state beyond the human, or to reconsider the boundaries of its being. See also: Cyborg, Post-Anthropocentric.

Post-Media: Interaction between multiple media within a single framework, that is not just existing across various platforms as one multi-media object, but rather focussing on the relationships amongst a range of individual components, with no one media dominating, all informing one another. Much as a sentence is composed as words, but it is the associations between that give sthe sentence meaning.

Profile Picture: A small icon image often associated with social media networks that usually depicts the user. See also: Avatar, Facebook.

Prometheus (’s flames): Prometheus stole fire from the Gods to give to man, with it he took technology, and the ability to craft tools, from Grecian myth. Firelight as a symbol for knowledge frequently occurs across cultures, and is also significant due to the destructive/constructive dichotomy of fire; it gives light, meaning to darkness, but may also consume all it contacts. See also: Techne (’s Charcoals).

Proxy: Proxy may be used to defer to a secondary source, but is also used within the semantic field of computing, as in ‘proxy server’, meaning a remote or intermediary between network clients to access resources.

Pseudo-Presence: Presence by another name; to give a indication of being emplaced whilst remaining absent.

Ragnarök: The end of the world in Norse mythology, which involved the death of various Gods, including Thor after slaying the Midgard Serpant, Jörmungandr, and ultimately results in the world being submerged in water, and the rebirth of the world; often used as a preamble into the Abrahamic creation myths. Here it is used metaphorically to refer to the growing tides of the Sea of Information. See also: Jörmungandr.

Remediation: The mediation of mediation; the appropriation of the forms, features, and functions of one media within another.

Representational Familiarity: The measure of how familiar to the individual something may be based primarily or representations of the subject, whether that be in photograph, description, or any other second-hand format or third-party content. See also: Phenomenological Relationships.
Reverse-Turing Test: A Turing Test is basic means of assessing whether a machine can pass for human using a series of question and answer responses. A reverse-Turing test here refers more broadly to the principal of a person being able to pass as machine. See also: AGNES.

Rupert Murdoch: Australian-American businessman, notable for being the founder of the News Corporation, and now boards-member for NewsCorp and 21st Century Fox. And a supporter of previous British Prime Ministers including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and every PM since 1976, as well as as the current PM David Cameron. See also: David Cameron, News Corp.

Self-Generating Multifaceted-Autobiographical Meta-Media: That which produces itself in a form that has multiple faces or outcomes, which describes itself in relation to its context between various mediums. See also: Meta-Data, Multi-Faceted Individual, Ouroboros, Tangled Hierarchy.

Silvio Berlusconi: The former Italian Prime Minister and business tycoon, particularly notorious for his tight control of the media within the country, various court cases, criminalities and charisma.

Smartphone: A mobile telephone with Internet capabilities and a range of functions usually associated with a computer, or remediated from television.

Social Media: The networks of various online platforms that enable users to communicate with one another socially to form virtual communities. See also: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

Socratic dialogue: The dialogues between Socrates, Plato, and Xenophon. Here this may be seen as referring to learning through face-to-face communication. See also: Plato’s Cave

Sound Bites: A short section of sound or speech used to exemplify a subject in full.

Spam-Bot: A computer program designed to repeatedly send communications to a user to deliberately agitate them. The term refers to ‘Spam’ in the sense of unwanted materials delivered to an individual, making reference to the Spam Song in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in which a couple attempt to select a meal from a menu, but all the options feature varying quantities of spam, before a non-sequitur occurs as a group of Vikings begin to sing ‘Spam’ repeatedly.

Spiral of Silence: The principal proposed by PEW that individuals will refrain from expressing an opinion they believe to be counter to the current for fear of ostracization. See also: PEW.

Stelarc: Australian artist, who’s work frequently involves extrapolating from the obsolete body a new cybernetic form composed of a fusion of man and machine parts. See also: Cyborg

Stockholm Syndrome: A phenomena in which hostages empathise and bond with their captors.

Super-Nova: A massive stellar explosion that emits such a colossal amount of light and energy it may even outshine a galaxy, as the result of a star collapsing at the end of its life. Should the critical mass of the star be great enough, a black hole may even be produced. Here used metaphorically to describe the potential dangers of exponential information density.

Symbiotic: Multiple organisms that coexist co-dependently; parasitically or reciprocated.

Synectic: Problem solving through creative thinking within small groups of diverse individuals.

Tablet Computers: A mobile computer with a touch screen display and hardware in one unit, usually with Internet capabilities and other features.

Tangled Hierarchy: A form of Strange Loop, or cyclical paradox, that describes a system of ordering or establishing a non-linear hierarchy, in which the highest level returns to the lowest; or is otherwise interconnected by one or more relationships between the levels within that structure, so that there is no clearly defined or singular authority. See also: Ouroboros.

Techne (’s Charcoals): Referring to the legend of Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods in Ancient Grecian myth (and recurs in other aspects of Hellenic culture). However, it may be noted that it was not ‘a fire’ that was stolen, but the ability to make fire, or more generally this is attributed to the ability to produce technology; knowledge of knowledge, not just the product itself. Here, this is used metaphorically to describe the passing of technology between generations, to inscribe with the charcoals; that which is left behind after the initial flame, the sparks of ideas, have burnt out; the tool, and maker of tools. See also: Prometheus (’s flames).

Technological Apartheid: A societal divide based on the unequal distribution of, and access to, technologies, producing a more segregated society, that posits one group of peoples as ‘second class citizens’ against those in positions of privilege, the ‘first class citizens’; in a manner that it not controlled by the lower orders, but directed by those already in power. Making metaphorical reference to the racial segregation in South Africa from 1948-1994, and similarly the ghettoisation of African-America in various areas of the contemporary United States, although more in line with the Class based divisions within wealthy nations, but also between 1st and 3rd world nations.

Tesco: A multinational supermarket chain, currently the third largest retailer in the UK, in terms of profits. Founded by Jack Cohen, and the current chairman is Sir Richard Broadbent.

The Horse In Motion: Edward Muybridge’s famous photographic sequence of a horse running, made by setting up a series of cameras in a line, triggered by the horse passing in front of them. Which was use to prove that during a horse’s gallop, all four legs are momentarily off the ground. The sequence was soon animated, notably as part of a Zoetrope, a piece of spinning apparatus with slits at regular intervals around the outside of a simple conical structure, with the images on the inside, so when the device was spun it would produce one continuously looping animated image sequence that showed the horse running naturalistically.

Topology: The mathematical study of shapes and spaces.

Tower of Babel: From Genesis in the old Testament, a single tower containing the unified peoples and languages of the world, built by the generations after Noah following the Great Flood.

Transmutability: The potential for total transformation for form.

Twitter: An online micro-blogging social media platform, from which users exchange 140-character messages, entitled ‘Tweets’ (the character limit is remediated from SMS texts). The Co-founder and current chairman is Jack Dorsey, and CEO is Dick Costolo, and currently has around 300 million active users. A notable subsidiary of Twitter is the short video sharing service Vine.

Twitter Bomb: The posting of the same content repeatedly on Twitter, designed to create a social media explosion that ripples across the Internet, as a means of advertising, to produce a meme or provoke an greater reaction, as the subject becomes a ‘trending topic’. See also: Twitter.

Unpersoning: This makes reference to the Stalin-era practice of removing a politically undesirable person from history by destroying all evidence of their existence, including altering photographs and publications for the benefit of the ruling party.

Útgarða-Loki’s Horn: In Norse mythology, this is the vessel from which the thunder God, Thor, is challenged, by the Frost Giants, to drink from in a single swallow. He fails the task and it is revealed one end the horn is connected to the ocean, his drinking resulted in altering the level of the sea, resulting in the tides. Here it is used metaphorical to refer to the impossibility to consume all of the ‘sea of information’. See also: Ragnarök.

Virtual Reality: An immersive, computer-simulated environment, that substitutes the real world for an artificial scenario, which may replicate the physical experiences and phenomenology of the body in addition to an interactive environment; though currently most VR technologies are limited to audio-visual material, with only basic provisions for a total, multi-sensory experience. See also: Cyberspace, HUD, Immersion.

Wikipedia: Highly popular, free, and user-made encyclopaedia. Considered by many digital natives as the fountain of knowledge itself, yet is simultaneously famed for its inaccuracy, but also its breadth of highly specialised information.

World Trade Centre: Also known as the ‘Twin Towers’, that were attacked on 11.9.2001 by a series of plane impact. It has been suggested that one of the reasons why the US government was unable to react in time was due to an overwhelming amount of flight information being transmitted and received by the various airports and flight agencies.

Yated Ne’eman: An Israeli Tabloid newspaper, affiliate with Haredi Judaism.

Zone of Proximal Development: The boundary that defines the “elements of a task that is initially beyond the learner’s capacity” [Wood, 1976: 90].


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