terça-feira, dezembro 29, 2015

A KIND OF MAGIC / A conversation about losing control over our own technology (By Crystal Bennes)


A conversation about losing control over our own technology

Author: CRYSTAL BENNES / By Crystal Bennes / Images by Tobias Revell

The less we understand about our personal technology, the easier it is to sign away our rights and, ultimately, control. We are delegating our responsibilities to algorithms and at the same time accepting what they give us in return as “magic”, up to the point where it becomes uncanny. The designer Tobias Revell and researcher Natalie Kane get critical about complacency with our Helsinki correspondent Crystal Bennes.

“Your average piece-of-shit Windows desktop is so complex that no one person on Earth really knows what all of it is doing, or how,” wrote journalist Quinn Norton in 2014. Coupled with Apple’s well-known slogan – “it just works” – these two expressions rest at the heart of conversations on magic, myth and technology which have long taken place within the design and technology industries, and are now emerging onto a wider stage.

In early 2015 the designer Tobias Revell and researcher Natalie Kane curated a strand of the Future Everything conference in Manchester, England, questioning the use of metaphors of magic and haunting in design and technology. “Magic was being used as an analogy to describe, for example, the way algorithmic systems work”, Kane says during a three-way video conversation. “Why do we keep thinking that Amazon recommendation systems are magic? There’s a lot to do with narratives of power, intent and agency – the conference was a starting point for a wider conversation over where we lose control over our own technology.”

Much of the technology industry remains visibly wedded to the Marquis de Condorcet’s idea of the “perfectibility of man”, as expressed in his 1794 book Sketch for a Historical Picture of the progress of the Human Mind with the argument that continuous progress in the past must lead to indefinite progress in the future. In part, it’s the devotion to this myth of progress that has made it so easy for magic to find a comfortable home in technology. “We’re seeing new types of origin myths and future myths around things like survivalism and seasteading,” says Revell. “All of these systems of belief have a myth about using technology to surpass ourselves into the next plane of humanity.

They’re all invested in a certain magical technology. For example, the ability to put a bunch of rich libertarians on a boat in the middle of the sea does not suddenly give you the magical ability to avoid tax law. Or not to have service staff and maintenance crew. But the image of the boat at sea has a magical romanticism to these people, which then builds into a future myth. And that myth attracts investment.”

With regard to personal technology, individuals are beginning to understand that the magic invoked in slogans like “you are more powerful than you think” (Apple again) is not merely magic that makes life easier, but represents a sleight-of-hand to disguise the fact that the company holds all the power.

“[Hacker, writer and artist] Eleanor Saitta outlines this idea of the ‘mage’s circle’, where the knowledge of how these systems work is kept within a small group of people,” Revell says. “You’re not allowed to know how to fix your iMac, for example. You’re not even allowed to know how to open it. I’d put ‘terms and conditions’ in the same category – you’re signing away your legal rights for the future and you don’t even know what it means.”

»you choose to use the technology in exchange for not understanding 100 percent how it works«

Kane chimes in: “Those are your terms of access. It’s a trade off; you choose to use the technology in exchange for not understanding 100 percent how it works. It isn’t always mean and malicious, as often they think they’re just making it simpler for you.”

Herein lies one of the most pressing problems in the broader conversation relating to the ease of so-called magical technology: responsibility. If our “terms of access” have now become such that we effectively sign away our rights to data, software and hardware ownership, as well as accessibility, is the magic still worth it? “It’s difficult in many cases”, Kane says, “because when something goes wrong our impulse is to look for a central responsibility, but the layers of accountability are distributed widely. To keep to the magical metaphor, should we blame the person who casts the spell or the culture of magic?”

“For me, it’s the responsibility of the person who invokes the spell in the first place”, Revell adds. “My problem with something like Nest [a programmable thermostat and energy meter which can be accessed remotely - the company was bought by Google for $3.2 billion in 2014] is that you the consumer are making a decision not to be responsible for your impact on the climate. You’ve delegated that responsibility to a machine or an algorithm, which has been created by people you’ve never met but you assume share similar values. But it is your problem. You should think about it. You’re the human.”

Within the framework of the uncanny valley, products like Nest and other Internet of Things [a phrase coined by British tech entrepreneur Kevin Ashton in 1999 to refer to the new networks being created by the linking of physical objects to the internet] objects can offer a potentially fruitful analysis of the domestic space. “Everyone thinks of the uncanny as the robot that looks too much like a human”, Kane says, “but what if the uncanny valley is a home that pretends to be a home, but is actually much more terrifying than that. If your fridge is ‘magic’, do you not have the illusion of a home? Or more an anti-home?”

“It’s linked to the idea of haunting”, Revell says. “We’re installing devices in our homes which aren’t entirely under our control and we don’t understand how they work or how to fix them. That becomes deeply uncanny, because you’re then deeply suspicious of your own home. The security of understanding it as a home is swept away from under you. Looking at places like London, we now know our generation will forever be renters and things like Nest then have completely different implications. We’re already treating our homes as transient, small spaces. Once those are laced with devices and absent landlords, I imagine home will be a vastly different concept.”

source: uncubemagazine

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current version (adapted from Lucio Fontana’s “TV Manifesto of the Spatial Movement”

Lucio Fontana (adapted)

«Internet Manifesto of the Spatial Movement»

For the first time throughout the world, we Spatialists are using Internet to transmit our new forms of art based on the concepts of space, to be understood from two points of view:

the first concerns spaces that were once considered mysterious but that are now known and explored, and that we therefore use as plastic material:

the second concerns the still unknown spaces of the cosmos - spaces to which we address ourselves as data of intuition and mystery, the typical data of art as divination.

For us, Internet is a means that we have been waiting for to give completeness to our concepts. 

(We are happy that this Spatial manifestation of ours is being transmitted from Italy - a manifestation destined to renew the fields of art.)

This Spatial manifestation is destined to renew the fields of art.

It is true that art is eternal, but it was always tied down to matter, whereas we want it to be freed from matter.

Through space, we want it to be able to last a millennium even for a transmission of only a minute.

Out artistic expressions multiply the lines of the horizon to the infinite and in infinite dimensions.

They are a research for an aesthetic in which a painting is no longer painted, a sculpture no longer sculpted, and in which the written page leaves behind its typographical form.

We Spatialists feel ourselves to be the artists of today, since the conquests of technology are by now at the service of the art we profess.

Signed by,


Milan, May 17, l952

Source: This manifesto was distributed during a television broadcast by Lucio Fontana, he was not able to read it.

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segunda-feira, dezembro 28, 2015

[451] ·2015

Is another human living inside you?

Is another human living inside you?:

“Humans are not unitary individuals but superorganisms,” says Peter Kramer at the University of Padua. “A very large number of different human and non-human individuals are all incessantly struggling inside us for control.”

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It’s a piece that is meant to be listened to at night. I hope...

It’s a piece that is meant to be listened to at night. I hope that people will fall asleep listening to it, because the project is also a personal exploration into how music interacts with consciousness – another fascination for me. (…) M.R.

What if you slept, and what if in your sleep you dreamed,
and what if in your dreams you went to heaven and there
you plucked a strange and beautiful flower, and what if
when you awoke you had the flower in your hand?
Ah, what then?
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1817

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domingo, dezembro 27, 2015

You are listening to JFK Air Traffic Control

You are listening to JFK Air Traffic Control:

You are listening to JFK Air Traffic Control

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quinta-feira, dezembro 17, 2015

"Time-sharing was the first manifestation of what we today call personal computing. It made possible,..."

“Time-sharing was the first manifestation of what we today call personal computing. It made possible, as Kemeny wrote in his book, “a true symbiotic relationship between man and computer.””

- Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember. London: Atlantic Books, 2010. (via carvalhais)
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sexta-feira, dezembro 11, 2015

a series of talks on Media Art History

a series of talks on Media Art History

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quarta-feira, dezembro 09, 2015

"Compulsory heterosexuality works most powerfully in the most casual modes of conversation. One asks:..."

“Compulsory heterosexuality works most powerfully in the most casual modes of conversation. One asks: ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ to a girl, or one asks ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ (to a boy). Queer subjects feel the tiredness of making corrections and departures; the pressure of this insistence, this presumption, this demand that asks either for a ‘passing over’ (a moment of passing, which is not always available) or for direct or indirect forms of self-revelation (‘but actually, he’s a she’ or ‘she’s a he’, or just saying ‘she’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘he’ instead of ‘she’ at the obvious moment). No matter how ‘out’ you may be, how (un)comfortably queer you may feel, those moments of interpellation get repeated over time, and can be experienced as a bodily injury; moments which position queer subjects as failed in their failure to live up to the ‘hey you too’ of compulsory heterosexuality.”

- Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (via aranrhod)
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segunda-feira, dezembro 07, 2015


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sábado, dezembro 05, 2015

prostheticknowledge: Deja Vu Fantastic online music video for...

image: besides, smaller than a single pixel, networked...

image: besides, smaller than a single pixel, networked performance / Martina Ruhsam and Annie Abrahams ( @e-stranger ) / at pixxelpoint 2015 festival, Nova Gorica (Slo), Gorizia (I) / Curator: Igor Stromajer

“technology gives you tools to allow and delay presence…
so that physical presence becomes the scariest option among a range of alternatives…” - Annie Abrahams and Martina Ruhsam at Pixxelpoint

While machines ‘talk behind our backs’ we become subjects and subject to an agency that is beyond (besides) ourselves. A capitalist endeavor in which the consumer - under continuous surveillance - is enclosed alone and together within a panoptic system and becomes consumed, without memory of its own agency.

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terça-feira, dezembro 01, 2015

everything is in flux . en.Slow Media

We like to imagine the world as something static. It makes it calculable and predictable. That way we can pile it up, classify things and keep an overview. During transitional stages, these stable, solidified structures become undone, they shift and begin to swim. And this is necessary, for only if structures and particles are in flux can new patterns, new connections emerge and thus new answers become visible. We therefore need these phases of structures in flux, in order to advance – and yet we do not really like them, we find them uncanny.


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