Network metaphors

Pecha Kucha (a PowerPoint slide show of 20 slides, each during 20 seconds, accompanying text in the notes of the PPT) on Network Metaphors

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The mirror hall of remediation

When can we call something really 'new', a rupture with the 'old'? Isn't the new always framed by the old? In what respect we see the new in terms of the old or the familiar has always been an urgent question for historians and futurologists, but with the emergence of media studies as an academic discipline the question had became all the more pressing, especially regarding so called 'new media'. And here McLuhan seems to be back in town, after a period of absence during the analytical hegemony of poststructuralism in the eighties of the 20th century.
The first attempts to design a general theory of new media against the backdrop of digitization are Remediation: Understanding New Media by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (2000) and The Language of New Media by Lev Manovich (2001). While Manovich can be seen as unconsciously performing McLuhan's thesis of the rear-view mirror – Manovich looks at new media through the lens of film theory, firmly framing his analysis by Vertov's cinematographic avant-garde piece Man with a Movie Camera – Bolter and Grusin explicitly take McLuhan's rear-view mirror as the founding principle of media dynamics.
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Publications 2009

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Digital material launch

So, the book is launched! Buy it, borrow it, or download it. My contribution can be read separately here (it's a short version of one of my PhD chapers).
The launch celebration day was great, though I embarrassingly 'miskissed' the dean when presenting the first copy to him… I know for sure now that I have no talent for bunny work, but anyway, the Utrecht New Media Maffia created a map – and put itself pontifically on it ;-)
I really liked the morning sessions where former students talked about their various  internships and professional careers – we should do this more often, since this not only shows a generational history of the New Media and Digital Culture program, it also creates a feeling of community among present students and teachers.
In the afternoon program New Media coordinator Joost Raessens gave a quick overview of ten years new media studies in Utrecht, how it started with three elderly musketeers and developed into the nice messy bunch of interdisciplinary and non-disciplinary eccentrics we are are now. My dear collegue Mirko Tobias Schäfer – in suit & sneakers, cool! – explained what we meant by digital materialism.
After that, we had two representatives of the contributors to the book. David Nieborg, former collegue who is now appointed in Amsterdam, addressed the uneasy mixture of military culture and popular culture in war games, and Eggo Muller demonstrated how fruitful a comparative-historical approach to new media and participatory culture can be, by demonstrating the 60s interface of the user-supported television program Aktenzeichen XY (a.k.a. Opsoring verzocht, and America's Most Wanted.) See here the first episode of Aktenzeichen XY (1967), with an elaborate explanation of the inscription apparatus involved.

Geert Lovink and Florian Cramer did the critical assesment work we asked them for, though of course in an unexpected way. Geert stated that we, as New Media Studies, were too close, not to say married to film and televison studies, and that it was time for a divorce (since this situation more or less confines us into a representation and visual-culture discourse – at least, that is what I could make of it). Florian suggested this situation was more a matter of genealogy, and that we were the grown-up child of film and television parents which can now may be stand on its own legs. Funny family metaphors, yet, I really disagree. I would say as far as we have a relationship with film and television studies we are rather promiscuous; and as offspring we are more illegal bastards than obedient kids extending the family tradition. I don't have the impression of any institutional or paradigm constraints by sharing the house with film, television, theater and gender studies. On the contrary, we benefit and borrow from notions such as active audiences, framing and montage, discursive formations and dispositif, situated knowledges and performativity, embodiednes and apparatus, public sphere and politics, representation and semiosis et cetera. This enables us to flesh out the medium specificities of digitality, network cultures and social-cultural machineries.
Florian made some clever comments on our – indeed, historically rather weak – argument for the current need for a materialist perspective on new media and digitality. However, when he played the ontology card (by distinguishing between the Scylla of ontology materialism and the Charybdis of cultural materialism) Jos de Mul intervened unimitable and quite appropriate with a short exposure of the adventures of ontology since Kant's framing turn, the linguistic turn and the contemporary mediatic turn. Florian gave in and remarked that it must be his German trauma (probably too much Fundamental Ontologie)…

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Book launch Digital Material

You are cordially invited to the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Department of New Media and Digital Culture of Utrecht University on Friday the 15th of May in Studio T, Kromme Nieuwegracht 20, Utrecht.

On this day we want to reflect on what we have achieved in the last ten years and how we have developed into a full-fledged and indispensable field of study. The day will be kicked off with a series of presentations of former student who will tell us about their professional careers after their study. In the afternoon our book Digital Material: Tracing New Media in Everyday Life and Technology will be launched (AUP, eds. M. van den Boomen, S. Lammes, A.-S. Lehmann, J. Raessens and M.T. Schäfer). The first copy of the book will be presented to Prof. Wiljan van den Akker (Dean of the Faculty of Humanities). Lectures will be held by Geert Lovink (Institute for Network Cultures) and Florian Cramer (Piet Zwart Institute). Afterwards artist will reflect upon the theme of the book with two installations: nOtbOt by Walter Langelaar and  threads/ by Audrey Samson.
The talks in the morning will be all held in Dutch. Please reserve a.s.a.p by e-mail (M.T.Schaefer@uu.nl), indicating which part of the day you would like to attend.

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Andrew Keen is a victim of the Web 2.0 hype

On the 9th of April I was, together with Giselinde Kuipers and Niels van Doorn from the University of Amsterdam, in a panel to discuss Andrew Keen's book The cult of the amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture and assaulting our economy.

Keen is a bitter ex-believer in the dot-com dream, who failed to make money with Internet business models in Sillicon Valley. He found out that the only way to make money with self-created content is by writing a book about how bad the Internet is. Sounds familiar?

Keen's business card tells he is 'the antichrist of Sillicon Valley'. On the flipside of his card – yes, I have one! – a picture of his book, plus a recommendation from the New York Times: 'shrewdly argued, he writes with acuity and passion'. Passion, yes – acuity and accuracy no, as Karin Spaink so eloquently had told him in the night before. He was not amused, he told us. Duh.

I think Andrew Keen is a victim of the Web 2.0 hype. He is a believer of the hype, though an inverse believer. Plain believers think that finally on Web 2.0 users are in control. And that this is good, that it brings democracy, equality and truth. Inverse believers also think that users are in control on Web 2.0, but that this is bad: an assault on quality, culture and objective truth.

But they are both wrong. Users are not in control on Web 2.0; software is.

 

Here is the text I spoke on this occasion.

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Transcoding metaphors 2

Here an update of my musings on transcoding metaphors, in the form of an article which has been submitted to Configurations.
Comments are welcome!

Interfacing by icons and metaphors

In this article I explore the role of mediating metaphors in our daily use of software. More specifically, how we deal with the desktop interface and its common 'icons', such as the mailbox icon. It will be shown how digital iconicity tends to metaphorical condensation and reification, a material-semiotic process which not only represents but also depresents what is going on inside a computer on the level of code and machinic transferences. This instance of reifying 'icontology' obscures the indexical transferences set in action by software. The article will show how and why computer interfaces are different from other machine interfaces, and how its buttons and switches function as condensed metaphorical sign-tools, usually in the form of 'icons'. These sign-tools have to be analytically decomposed in order to see what they hide and how they perform their signifying and executing job. The mailbox icon will be subsequently considered as a Peircian sign, as a Heideggerian tool, and finally as a material metaphor, in order to open up the black box and disentangle the sign-tool-machine oscillation at work in our computing practices.

Complete text: Interfacing by icons and metaphors

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Transcoding metaphors

An update of my musings on transcoding metaphors,  submitted to SPIEL.
Comments are welcome!

Transcoding metaphors after the mediatic turn

Hegel once wrote, rather regretful: ?The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk? (Hegel 1820). With this metaphor he indicated that philosophy understands phenomena only at the end of the day, when things have already passed. Wisdom always comes by hindsight, but at that moment the phenomenon at stake might be gone already. Hegel's winged words are still up to date. Thus, when philosophers and media scholars proclaim a mediatic or a medial turn, and start building conceptual frameworks, disciplines, and research programs around (New) Media Philosophy (Rodowick 2001, M?nker e.a. 2003, Sandbothe 2005), we could have a gut feeling that this media thing might be already behind us.
And indeed, right at the moment scholars start thinking about what media are, what they do, how they constitute what we conceive as reality and truth, and what this implies for ethics, politics, education and culture at large, media seem to be gone. Or at least they are on the move. Contemporary media seem to have lost their stable ontology as apparatus, they can no longer be located in particular carriers, devices, modalities or institutions. They seem to be ubiquitous, everywhere and nowhere. They have become floating signifiers, ready to embark on any instance of articulation or communication, ready to mediate anything at hand. And, as usual in philosophy, with the wisdom of hindsight, we realize retrospectively that after all no medium ? be it print, film, or television ? ever had a stable ontology.
What do we have then? A minimum definition would be: we have processes instead of ?things? ? mediations instead of media.

Complete text: Transcoding metaphors after the mediatic turn

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Datawolken

Marianne van den Boomen, "Van gemeenschap via webnetwerk naar datawolk". In: Jan Steyaert and Jos de Haan (eds.) Jaarboek ICT en samenleving 2007: Gewoon digitaal p.129-148. Amsterdam: Boom, 2007.

Van gemeenschap via webnetwerk naar datawolk

Het is inmiddels een open deur om te zeggen dat het internet niet meer weg te denken is uit de samenleving. Gebruikers zijn allang niet meer de professionals en nerds van weleer maar gewone mensen. Grootouders mailen met hun kleinkinderen, scholieren vinden elkaar op MSN en Hyves, studenten bloggen hun opdrachten, en rond elke kwaal, hobby, leefstijl of interesse bestaan online communities. Het internet is gewoon geworden, mainstream, vanzelfsprekend vervlochten met het dagelijks leven (Herring 2004, Pew 2005).
In deze bijdrage wil ik nagaan hoe die sociale vervlechting de afgelopen decennia tot stand is gekomen. Ik onderscheid daartoe drie vormen van e-sociabiliteit, opgevat als specifieke configuraties van internettechnologie en sociale toe-eigening. Die drie soorten configuraties ? kortweg: virtuele gemeenschappen, instant webnetwerken en gedistribueerde datawolken ? vormen min of meer opeenvolgende generaties, maar bestaan tegelijkertijd uit sedimentaties en getransformeerde voortzettingen van elkaar. Hoewel zo'n benadering noch historisch noch analytisch volledig is, valt zo een lijn te ontwaren van een toenemende online-offlinevervlechting parallel aan een afname van publieke communicatie in lokaliseerbare online ruimtes. Ik zal eindigen met de vraag of deze ontwikkelingen niet nopen tot het herijken van de concepten waarmee sociabiliteit van oudsher werd geanalyseerd.

Complete tekst:
Van gemeenschap via webnetwerk naar datawolk in: Jan Steyaert and Jos de Haan (eds.) Jaarboek ICT en samenleving 2007: Gewoon digitaal p.129-148. Amsterdam: Boom, 2007.

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De CD-killer

Deze week doet Vrij Nederland heel stoer. Journalist David Kleijwegt doet verslag van zijn downloadavonturen met zijn Ipod – poe, poe, hij downloadt wel 15 CD's per week. De cover toont een bricolage van de Ipod shadow reclame gemixt met de man met de zeis. De CD killer. De hoofdredactie erkent pontificaal het plegen van 'strafbare handelingen. En dat nog wel als medewerker van VN'. Nogal gratuit, want in Nederland is downloaden niet strafbaar, alleen uploaden. Niet zozeer omdat minister Donner dat heeft gezegd, maar omdat dat vastligt in de auteurswet. Wat de Stichting Brein ook beweert.
Op zich laat het stuk fraai zien hoe consumptie en distributie van muziek zich aan het verleggen is door het gebruik van digitale technologie, sharen en downloaden. En hoe dat een serieus probleem is voor de muziekindustrie en de gangbare business modellen. Op zich wisten we dat al, maar deze reportage in de vorm van een persoonlijke dagboek (blog-ge?nspireerd?) plus interviews met belanghebbenden zet het mooi op een rijtje.
De pontificale aankondiging – op de cover, in een hoofdredactionele introductie – doet vermoeden dat men hoopt op een lekkere media rel in komkommertijd, maar interessanter is iets anders dat dit artikel verraadt: het absolute onbenul over de technologie waarmee dit alles gebeurt.
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