Archive | March, 2012

A journey into the virtual

26 Mar

I am exploring the virtual this week and the many ways that it is present in the world. Firstly, there is great potential in the virtual, some may call it idealism because when you experience the virtual you may not be experiencing material reality as you know it (Murphie, 2012, p. 29). However, there are those that say that the virtual brings out the dynamic nature of reality and opens up a new world of opportunity: ‘the dynamism of material reality (Murphie, 2012, p. 29).’ If this is true then it becomes more difficult to answer the question: How do we know what is real? The virtual is further examined in Andrew Murphie’s article on The Network Society and Experimental Ecologies. In the article he claims that the virtual comes about thorough the individual in a network (Murphie, 2004, p. 121). This is because in the process of striving to be distinguished from the rest (individuation), the individual has an excess of expression. It is this excess of expression that creates the virtual. Thus the virtual has its own ecology and becomes part of the network society (Murphie, 2004, p. 121). This leads to new technologies interacting in the virtual, which creates a myriad of connections and processes (Murphie, 2004, p. 121). It is this virtual ecology that can give rise to so much innovation and technological opportunities.

Virtual reality is an example of this; it is an environment that simulates physical presence in real and imaginary locations (Anon, 2012).  It is primarily a sensory experience, which can involve sight, hearing, touch and so on (Anon, 2012). One way that virtual reality is used is in the treatment of phobias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is effective in treating these conditions as it allows a person to be gradually exposed to their fears, which then makes them desensitized to them (Anon, 2012). Moreover, virtual reality is also helping disabled people. At the Duke University Centre for Neuroengineering they have trained two monkeys to use their electrical brain activity in order to move a virtual hand avatar over virtual objects and then tell the difference between the textures of the different objects (Anon, 2011). This could have a huge impact on people who are paralysed as they can recover some mobility and rediscover their sense of touch (Anon, 2011). I think this links in with what Andrew Murphie was saying about the virtual and how much potential it has in the network society, it has the power to positively change so many different areas of society, in this case people with disabilities. This coincides with an article I found about virtual medical appointments. Two organisations called Cisco and UnitedHealth Group have created the ‘Connected Core’ (Singel, 2009). This involves patients getting, check ups through web chat. The benefits of this are that doctors can become accessible to people living in remote areas, makes it easier to get referrals and medical tools improve as they become digitized (Singel, 2009). It is particularly beneficial for children, people with chronic health issues, follow-up visits and behavioural counselling (Singel, 2009).

Another example of virtual reality, which I think demonstrates the potential of the virtual, is the ‘autonomous plane’ that the navy has created which can land on an aircraft carrier (Hennigan, 2012). It is primarily an independent flying device called X-47B and it is flown through the use of computers. It has the ability to enter into combat situations and cause destruction. This raises ethical dilemmas, which needs to be looked at by policy makers. Additionally, these drones are said to react faster than human pilots and they can reduce the number of war casualties (Hennigan, 2012). This I believe changes our conception of what is real and possible.

Virtual innovation is not only limited to the military, it can also be seen in social relations. For example, researchers at Barcelona University have come up with a virtual reality device that enables men to empathize with females who are victims of violence (BBC News, 2012). The participant puts on the head mounted display and is transported to a virtual room where they begin to identify as the female in the room (BBC News, 2012). When another person in the room physically abuses the female, the participant feels the shock of the assault due to the fact that they are beginning to see themselves as the female being assaulted (BBC News 2012). As this example and the previous ones have illustrated the virtual is full of possibilities. It is also linked to the network society and the different ecologies that are evident in this society. It is these relations that make me feel hopeful about the future of the virtual and what reality will be conceived as in a couple of years time.

Barcelona University research that is helping men empathize with females

References:

1)   Anon. (2011) ‘Monkeys ‘Move and Feel’ Virtual Objects Using Only Their Brains’, ScienceDaily, October 5, [online]. Available at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111005131648.htm [Accessed 24 March 2012].

2)   Anon. (n.d.) ‘Virtual Reality’, Wikipedia [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_reality [Accessed 23 March 2012].

3)   BBC News (2010) How virtual reality is building empathy in the real world, August 16, [online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/8918754.stm [Accessed 25 March 2012].

4)   Hennigan, W. J. (2012) ‘New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who’s accountable?’, Los Angeles Times, January 26, [online]. Available at: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-auto-drone-20120126,0,740306.story [Accessed 24 March 2012].

5)   Murphie, A. (2012) Course Outline and Readings [online]. Available at: http://arts3091.newsouthblogs.org/course-outline-and-readings/ [Accessed 23 March 2012].

6)   Murphie, A. (2004) The World as Clock: The Network Society and Experimental Ecologies in Topia, 11: 117-139.

7)   Singel, R. (2009) The Future Is Now For Virtual House Calls, July 29, Wired [online]. Available at: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/07/video-chatting-killer-medical-app-of-the-future [Accessed 25 March 2012].

Extending the mind

18 Mar

This week I would like to focus on the extended mind concept. Specifically, the theory of ‘active externalism’, which is when, objects (TV, mobile phone) in the environment take over functions that used to be performed in the mind (Wikipedia, 2012). This means that people’s minds regularly make use of external objects to such a degree that they become extensions of their mentality (Wikipedia, 2012). Another important aspect of this theory is the ‘coupled system’ where the mind and the environment form a cognitive system, this makes it possible for the mind to be stretched out into the external world (Wikipedia, 2012). The way this system functions was further elaborated on in the David Chalmers video. In this video clip he explains how the environment can be joined to a cognitive system. He does this by introducing the ‘parity principle’; this is based on the idea that we all have the same beliefs and inclinations even before we begin to remember things using our minds or objects (Chalmers, 2009). To demonstrate this he uses the example of Inga and Otto who are both on their way to a museum. Otto who has Alzheimer’s disease uses a notebook to write down the directions to the museum while Inga uses her memory to recall the directions. Using the parity principle one can see that they both hold the same belief and desire about the directions to the museum so they are equally situated (Chalmers, 2009). The only difference is that Otto’s notebook acts as his biological memory (Chalmers, 2009). Therefore Otto’s mind is been extended, as the notebook becomes the root of his memory (Wikipedia, 2012).

This theory made me think differently about my environment as it made me realise that objects such as my laptop or mobile phone had indeed become part of my cognitive system. For example, the way they make daily decisions for me or the fact that they contain my immediate desires. Furthermore, these theories made me aware of how my mind works and the way technology embodies my thought processes and disembodies my mind (Chalmers, 2009). However, I think one needs to explore the negative implications of extending the mind into the environment. For example, does this mean that we are no longer in control of our own thought processes? Is there a possibility that these objects could unconsciously influence us due to our over-reliance on them?

Some of the negative aspects of the extension of the mind theory are examined in the Bernard Stiegler reading. In particular, he states that as we engage more with ‘cognitive technologies’ that aid our memory like the computer or telephone we are in danger of loosing our own knowledge (Stiegler, 2011). Moreover, he states that this loss of knowledge is due to the fact that we are no longer performing everyday tasks instead we are relying on technologies, this leads us to ‘consume blindly’ (Stiegler, 2011). Ultimately this can lead to our own extinction. This relates to the section on memory in the course outline. Specifically, how ancient Greeks believed that technologies such as writing could destroy our ‘natural memory’. This is because memories would be able to exist outside the mind (Murphie, 2012, p. 23). This makes me think about how much of my own knowledge has been jeopardised due to my dependency on technology.

Additionally, it also makes me think about the possibilities of mind control, which is examined in the article by Veronica Pamoukaghlian. One thought control device that was mentioned in the article was the electroencephalography (EEG), which was developed by Dr. Igor Smirnov (Pamoukaghlian, 2011). This device creates a visual representation of the electronic activity in the brain (Pamoukaghlian, 2011). This allows a person to create a map of the subconscious. As a consequence of this, one could use subliminal messages to alter the thought processes of a person (Pamoukaghlian, 2011). Another thought control device is the Semantic Stimuli Response Measurements Technology (SSRM) Tek project which was developed by Moscow’s Psychotechnology Research Institute. This is a technology that uses software to assess a person’s involuntary responses to subliminal messages (Pamoukaghlian, 2011). For example you can flash subliminal images at an airport screening post and get a good idea of what the audience is thinking. This is the reason why America’s Homeland Security Department has taken such an interest in this project. This interest alarms me because as the article mentions, these technologies could be used by different government organizations. This could mean that we would no longer be able to think privately in public spaces.

In my research project I would like to look at the negative consequences of extending our mind through technologies. How is this embodied in real life and what will this lead to in the future. Should we be resiting it or embracing it?

References:

1)   Wikipedia (2012) The Extended Mind [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_Mind [Accessed 17 March 2012].

2)   Chalmers, D. (2009) The Extended Mind Revisited [1/5], at Hong Kong, 2009 [online] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S149IVHhmc [Accessed 17 March 2012].

3)   Stiegler, B. (2011) Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation [online]. Available at: http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis [Accessed 16 March 2012].

4)   Murphie, A. (2012) Course Outline and Readings [online]. Available at: http://arts3091.newsouthblogs.org/course-outline-and-readings/ [Accessed 16 March 2012].

5)   Pamoukaghlian, V. (2011) Mind Games: Science’s Attempts at Thought Control [online] Available at: http://brainblogger.com/2011/12/28/mind-games-sciences-attempts-at-thought-control/ [Accessed 18 March 2012].

The complexities of ecologies

11 Mar

This week I thought I would do a mind map to work through some of the different interpretations of ecologies, in particular media ecologies. I was particularly drawn to Felix Guattari’s theory that the ecologies of the mind, society and the environment can join together in order to create positive change in the world. Moreover, that their differences can set them apart from other political structures and people can become part of a democratic network instead of been stifled by hierarchical structures. I really want to explore this idea further in my final research assignment and perhaps relate it to digital technology.

References

1) Media Ecology Association (2009) What is Media Ecology? [online]. Available at: http://www.media-ecology.org/media_ecology/ [Accessed 9 March 2012].

2) Fuller, M. (2005) ‘Introduction’ in Media Ecologies: Materialists Energies in Art and Technoculture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 1-12.

3) Wikipedia (2012) Media ecology [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_ecology [Accesses 9 March 2012].

4) Anon. (2008) The Three Ecologies – Felix Guattari [online]. Available at: http://mediaecologies.wordpress.com/2008/10/07/the-three-ecologies-felix-guattari/ [Accessed 9 March 2012].

Living in a machinic world

7 Mar

One of the key things that I took away from the readings this week was the idea that we are living in a ‘machinic dimension’. This idea came from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. It is a concept that looks at technology as been part of the natural and cultural flow of the world rather than been insulated from it (Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 31). Furthermore, instead of strictly focusing on the form that technology takes, it looks at its different functions and its context. This means that technology becomes part of the cultural and physical world (Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 31). The reason why technology has become part of this world is because our mindset and way of life seeks the idea of flow whether it is in the form of transportation or communication with others. This is why we have become so immersed with technology as it facilitates this. This is epitomised in the reading by the example of the city, which is described as a technology that demonstrates the increasing machinic nature of human beings (Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 34). This is because in the city people are in constant flux due to the high concentration of technologies in their urban environment. Moreover, the reason why technology creates flow in the world is that by its very nature it is constantly changing, adapting and flowing into other technologies so that new technologies can arise (Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 34).

The notion that we are living in a machinic world makes sense to me as it does not separate society from technology but looks at how they relate to each other and the results that this produces. The only thing that I would question is whether this need to create flow in society will ultimately be to our detriment as we are constantly moving through life without been able to sit down and think about how things affect people and alternative ways to move through the world.

I think the idea of a machinic world that continually flows is related to the video of Saskia Sassen talking about electronic activism. In this video she claims that non-government organisations like Oxfam need to focus on their objectives and set up their own civil society logic instead of becoming closed entities that adhere to the logic of engineers and computer scientists (Sassen, 2009). If organisations strive to do this than they can be part of a bigger network and are able to become agents of change. This links to the idea of a machinic dimension because she is telling people to not merely look at technology as an object but as a part of the cultural and natural world they occupy and by doing so they are able to create flow in their organisations as it gives them an opportunity to enter a network and create new interactions so positive transformation can occur.

Another key concept that I found interesting in the reading was the idea that space is been taken over by the drive towards speed, which is made possible by technologies, specifically military innovations. This was asserted by Paul Virilio who stated that we live in a ‘dromoshpere’ which means that everything is taken over by this idea of technological speed even our own consciousness (Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 36-37). Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian further elaborates this, as he examines how Virilio envisioned the future of ware fare in society. In particular, the belief that new wars would not focus on the physical world instead it would be about the technological speed of the armies. This leads to bad outcomes as our freedom is increasingly restricted by our need to be the fastest whether it is with money, weapons or ideology (Jeffries, 2011). I think this argument has many valid points especially when we look at the nature of modern warfare today. For example, in America a robotics company called Boston Dynamics has built a robotic cheetah that has set a new world speed record. It is designed to assist soldiers and has been modeled on animals in the wild. It has been claimed that it is a ‘high speed killer’ (BBC News, 2012). However it has also been asserted that this robot would have a hard time distinguishing civilians from enemy fighters and may not adhere to the laws of war fare (BBC News, 2012). I think this story illustrates Virilio’s claim that we are constantly striving towards speed no matter what the consequences are. Also, the fact that the technologies we create become harder to control to the point that we are no longer part of the equation. This is demonstrated by the fact that this robotic cheetah can indiscriminately kill. I think Virilio’s concept of the dromosphere is relevant to how we look at society and technological innovation. Having said that, I find his claim that people are obsessed by speed as been too one-sided because he doesn’t recognize the other functions that technology serves such as bringing people together in a community or creating a space for discussion and interaction.

References:

1) BBC News (2012) Robotic cheetah ‘breaks speed record for legged robots’ [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17269535 [Accessed 3 March 2012].

2) Jeffries, S. (2011) Friedrich Kittler and the rise of the machine [online]. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/28/friedrich-kittler-rise-of-the-machine [Accessed 5 March 2012].

3) Murphie, A., Potts, J. (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology. London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38.

4) Sassen, S. (2009) The Internet as Playground and Factory [online]. Available at: http://vimeo.com/6789940 [Accessed 5 March 2012].

The transformative power of media events

5 Mar

When I first caught a glimpse of the title of the course Advanced Media Issues I thought that it would strictly focus on the media and everything that revolves around the media. I did not think that it would look at broader themes or topics that one would not typically associate with the media. However, this view began to change when I attended the first lecture and then started reading the course outline. I started to realise that concepts like culture, society, memory, ecologies as well as many others were going to be explored. This completely transformed my view of the course and I feel tentatively motivated to do my own independent research so that I can start developing my own original ideas. This could have an impact on how I see the media, society and life in general.

Before I get too ahead of myself I would like to look at the concept of media events, which was discussed in the lecture. What I found particularly interesting about this discussion is how the media links in with society and culture; they have this semiotic relationship, which I had never looked closely at before. For example, when we look at media events what we are essentially observing is the cultural and social changes that have taken place and have been reinterpreted through the vast forms of media. So there is this continual cycle going on which I think was perfectly demonstrated by the mind map that was shown in the early part of the lecture: what we think—media/technological event—practices with media and communication—culture and society (Murphie, 2012). What is primarily evident here is that each element is feeding of each other and the result is truly transformative.

The potential of this is seen in the concept of the Weird Global Media Event which is an event that breaks out of the conventional relationships like politics or economics, has a global reach and can penetrate different cultures (Murphie, 2012). An example of this that I found was the Chinese TV show called “Interviews Before Executionwhich interviews death row prisoners before their sentences are carried out. It is meant to deter criminals but the viewers who watch this show have created their own meanings from it. As its popularity has increased universal themes like money, jealousy and sex have been extracted from the show (Anon., 2012). Also, people have started to change their perceptions of prisoners and the death penalty. The reason why I think it is a global event is because this story has spread to the international media and is changing the perceptions people have of society, culture, penal system and other established institutions. In sum it has truly become a transformative event.

Link to the original Daily Mail article

References:

1) Murphie, A. (2012) ARTS3091 – Intro. [online]. UNSW. Available at: http://arts3091.newsouthblogs.org/lecture-notes/ [Accessed 4 March 2012].

2) Anon, (2012) TV Show that interviews death row prisoners a hit in China. [online] Available at: http://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/-/world/13080788/show-that-interviews-death-row-prisoners-a-tv-hit [Accessed 4 March 2012].