Monday, February 22, 2010

New Media and Nature

I know I talked about Avatar last week, but this week I want to talk about another thing the movie brought up for me. Just to put it out there I'm definitely not Avatar obsessed, but I think that the movie is worth writing about since it has relationships to new media on so many different levels.

Anyhow, one of the things that got me thinking the most about in the movie was our relationship to nature, as one of the main themes in the movies is connection to the living world, while at the same time the movie as a whole was about and encouraged us to disconnect from the real world. In general, the movie did the strange thing of celebrating something that is more organic than than the truly organic. The whole thing struck me as a little bit off, but in general, I guess that after contemplating these conflicting ideas I ended up thinking more about how I should be embracing the natural world, and in general made me worried about how new media could be increasing the gap between it and myself.

Anxieties about new media are brought up by Lister, et al. in chapter 1.5.3 of New Media: A Critical Introduction, which got me thing about this. People have always had worries about new technology. I remember reading something along the line of that when writing was introduced to ancient Greece, people were worried about its impact on oral tradition and people's memories. In general, it seems obvious that people who enjoy the current situation are always going to be afraid of change.

In general though, new media didn't create this gap between us and the organic world, it has been growing some time. In America, jobs on farms started to be displaced by jobs in factories over a hundred years ago. It seems like now, there is actually an emphasis being put on having greener workplaces, so in certain ways the situation might even be getting better. In Blade Runner and other science fiction movies, they portray a future with our world covered in metal with everything as having been in some way engineered by man. I believe that in many ways society is fighting against this post-modernist image of the future, and I generally don't see it happening, but my fear is that new media does encourage us to lose touch with our natural surroundings. I think that generally, most people feel the need to get outside and to have organic things around them, however I know that I can lose touch with that need pretty easily and I think it might be that way for some other adults. When I was a kid, growing up with the internet and TV, I didn't even see the importance of spending time outside at all, and I would say many kids today are probably the same way.

It was in my late teens I think when really started to see what may have been more obvious for others, which is the benefit of connecting with the natural world. While the excitement in the outdoors might not be as in your face as movies or video games, it is free, it is your own (in the sense you that you find it for yourself), it is awe inspiringly complex, awe inspiringly simple, and the connection is much more intense and feels better than anything I believe new media can offer. It also seems to be able to offer answers to quite a few questions if you look for them. It seems like especially since the Enlightenment, as people move away from religion, it has become more important to find a sort of spiritual fulfillment else where, and nature seems is an obvious places for this. As the type of person who gets so caught up in doing work that I can go for days with only a few hours outdoors, keeping this in mind is especially important.

Then come in nature documentaries. To me they seem to serve as a cheap nature fix. While these do help me to appreciate the outside world, and teach me things that I wouldn't have learned from just "being outdoors" I can not help but feel a little bit strange that my I spend most of my time experiencing the outside world from my couch. I feel like new media generally encourages us to live a synthetic connection with the natural world, but to what point is it real? I know it can definitely feel real sometimes, and according to my New Media teacher, Nicola Martinez, it really does feel like we are actually there, but does it have the same spiritual benefits? For some reason, Avatar made the connection feel incredibly hollow to me.

Of course, there is a beauty and a spiritual quality in exploring the depths of our imagination and feeling the emotions that we can feel through new media and media in general. This is essentially what keeps me coming back.

The the discussion of the relationship between technology, entertainment, and the natural world is definitely not a new one, however I feel like I have not heard it talked about very much recently. Anyhow, I guess I wrote this for myself as a reminder that as a new media artist, while I strive to create exciting new worlds it is also important to look at the world that is here around me.

Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Martinez, Nicola. "History and Theory of New Media Week 4" Google Wave with author, quote from PhD Dissertation. Feb 16, 2010.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Purpose, New Media, and Avatar

These are some of my thoughts pertaining to my reading thus far in the Digital Media: A Critical Introduction book. I have used chapters instead of page numbers for citations, since I'm reading it on Kindle for PC, which uses a different page numbering system.
In chapter 1.4.2 in Digital Media: A Critical Introduction, Lister et al. outline many interesting points on new media and its use and potential uses or "affordances". These points inspire us to ask ourselves what exactly a medium lends itself to and how can it best be put to use. Digital Art and animation are probably my favorites out of all the new media, so lets start there.

For me, the first answer that pops into my head is AVATAR (in very large, exciting letters). The possibilities for creating simulations of reality, or imagined realities, seems amazing. We are given this crazy, complex world around us, and for some reason one of our driving instincts is to figure out how it came to be, and to bisect it down to some mathematical formula. Obviously, this serves some great purposes. As a aspiring new media artist, however, I'm primarily interested in how I can transform this newly digitized reality, and make it more exciting than the one we see every day. I guess this is considered creating the Baudrilliard's hyperreal, discussed by Lister et al. in chapter 1.2.6 of the book, though I do not fully understand that term, and he seems to use it in reference to even creations which are not stretched intentionally away from reality. Anyhow, digital art and animation seem to be perfectly suited for this purpose.

While it is important to ask ourselves what a new medium "affords" us, it is important to first ask ourselves the obvious question of what exactly we want this medium to do. In chapter 1.4.2, Lister et al. reference Raymond Williams: "Williams argues that there is nothing inherent in the nature of a media technology that it is responsible for the way society uses it." While this makes sense, we can not dismiss the obvious fact that something was initially created to serve some specific purpose, and while we are not limited to that purpose, it is probably going to be our primary intent. If I can use something to make a bowl of soup, I do not really care, when what I want to be doing is making pancakes, which was why I originally created this random imaginary gizmo. Of course, beyond that, after we have had enough pancakes to eat, we must exercise our curiosity and ask ourselves, "ok, so what else besides make pancakes can I create with this cool new toy?" I suppose, if we were not so hungry for pancakes in the first place, we might have found out that it actually can make belgian waffles, which would have been way, way tastier than pancakes, but we did not think about it when we were making the contraption. This would be the importance of determining a new media's "affordance" and in chapter 1.4.2, they discuss the need for experimentation to find out all these neat things we can do with each new media.

To be honest, in terms of animation and special effects, I think we have found the way to make a whole Krispy Kream doughnuts factory. At the moment, I can not really envision how it could be better, but then again, I have not actually talked to the people who worked on Avatar, and I am sure they would have a few ideas. I guess, on many levels, our own knowledge is really the only thing holding back from the possibilities of uses of computers. While the processor speed and other more material factors make a difference, in many cases making something happen is just a matter of someone sorting through the code to do so. In general, the main afforance of a new digital medium is based on what we make it to do. Their usefulness is primarily limited by what we have wanted to accomplish with them, and, what we can feed them with code. With most tools we might find added uses other than what they were created to do, however, in the days of computing, we could have probably achieved this new found purpose a different way by beginning with the purpose in mind.

On a slightly different note, Avatar is also interesting when you consider the fact that, while it was created utilizing new media, it is a movie relased for cinemas, which is more of an old medium. The authors note an interesting quote from Clement Greenburg, in which he discusses the new media of his time, photography, and how the function of paintings changes with the invention of it: "painting should utilize color and surface since photography was better for illustrative and narrative work. Painting could now realize its true nature." If an old media is to survive, it has to take advantage of what makes it special from new media. Avatar does a great job of doing that with the old medium of cinematic movies. While the movie makes great use of computer effects, it also really seems to find the "true nature" of old medium of cinematic distribution in a world with rising new forms of distribution. As people are now frequently able to pirate movies before they even leave the theaters, the point in going out to watch movies is diminishing. I think that all movies are best on the big screen, but some movies really just have to be watched on one. It seems that movies without all these visuals could end up moving towards internet distribution, while more visual movies are left to shine on the big screen. One good example of how this is working already is in the comedy genre. Will Farell and other comedians are basically as funny on the small screen as on the big screen, and Funny or Die makes great use of their talents at a low budget for everyone to watch, which I am sure makes them quite a hefty sum in advertising revenue and affords them more creative opportunities. For the audience, it is definitely worth sacrificing seeing them on the big screen to get the opportunity to watch them at home for free and with more material being put out. While I have not heard of internet distribution of any full-length Hollywood features, I think that it could definitely be a possibility for smaller studios or films that are more plot and dialog based. There is still nothing like seeing any movie on the big screen, but I also think that many interesting opportunities could afford themselves to the medium of internet distribution.

In general, there is tons more to be said about the uses and affordance of digital effects and simulation and computing in general. These are just a few of my initial thoughts on the subject.

Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Thoughts on Google Wave

During my course in digital media, all teacher student communications are taking place in google wave. These communications are one my first experiences with the program, and I decided that starting out with the program was a good opportunity to explore some questions I had about it and to make some comments.

I've had google wave for maybe a month, and checked my account only a couple of times. While it seemed interesting, I did not really seem to have any real reason to explore it until now. As soon as Nicola, (my History and Theory of New Media teacher) and I agreed to use it we came up with the problem of reminding ourselves to check it. One of the most important problems I foresee for google wave is people forgetting about it. There are a few things that could keep me (and other users) coming back to the program, which is something that google has to focus on at this point in development.

Can I Forward e-mail to wave?

It seems like if google wave is going to be an e-mail replacement, it should somehow sync with what I have for e-mail right now. This means that I want my old e-mails to come to my google wave in-box. I'm going to check whatever program people send me things in, and whatever I'm checking is what I'm going to be sending people things out of. This means that I want my gmail mail (where people actually send me things) forwarded to my google wave, and to be able to respond to e-mails through google wave. So is this possible?

According to google, this is not possible, for now. Until this happens I do not for-see google wave replacing e-mail anytime soon, but once membership is open to the public it could be less of a problem.

Google Wave Notifications?

Since it would be pointless for me to integrate google wave into part of my work flow at this point and check it every day, I need a way to let me know when I do have new waves. For windows , I installed the firefox plugin. For my mac I installed Hiroshi's Unofficial Google Wave Notifier, which works like google notifier and sits on the top of my screen and works with growl.

How to Join Public Waves

Another main issue I had from jumping into wave was the fact that I did not really have any way to really test it out or see examples. My first experience with wave made it seem more like e-mail, however what I knew about wave made it sound like it had more public forum capabilities, but how to access these public forms so I could see what wave was capable of?

The answer is not something I would have guessed on my own. In the search box, you have to search with: public

This is a great example of the power of search modifiers. They are things which I will probably explore more in depth later in this course when I talk about different methods of finding information.

Wave as an Instant Messenger

Anyhow, upon googling "with:public" I was bombarded by my first massive wave experience, it's almost...too much...

Using wave as a messenger seems like it would not be fun as it would just create massive waves that aren't so relevant unless you're using the wave for only that purpose..."hey how's everyone today" "fine" "dandy" "everything's good" "I have a cold"...wave does not seem like the place for it, at least not in documents that you want to put to use eventually. A good way to get around this would be to have a way to collapse irrelevant messages or highlight important bits of conversation. Generally, it would also be nice to have a way to collapse all subtopics.

Subtopics are one of the biggest things in google wave, for more information on them see this bit on inline editing:

Google Wave as a CMS?

Google wave has the potential to be embedded into a webpage, for easy updating and easy commenting. I do not really think it will replace a traditional blog structure though. It could be used more like a twitter page, or a photo gallery page, since I'm guessing you'd only be able to access the information in one spot (like a blog page without being able to click on individual posts), and, depending upon the user permissions, it could be also be a bit too collaborative to serve as a way to maintain content. I think that, most likely, waves would be replacing discussion boards and wikis (which are two things I don't participate in that often so are more difficult for me to compare to).

Google Wave For Personal Note Taking

I use Evernote constantly, especially for my school notes, and random other tidbits. Normally my writing work-flow involves taking lots of notes in Evernote, building those note into sentences in the same document, and then piecing together into a more coherent whole in google docs. Basically, 90% of everything I do is done in browser or in Evernote. To be honest I don't have too many problems with it, but I also think google wave has potential to be a more dynamic note taker. I especially like the idea of non inline editing, since it could be a helpful way of expanding my outlines. After playing with wave I do not think you can really use it in the same manner as Evernote though. So far it seems much less accessible in terms of searching notes, and harder to take fast notes (I normally use Evernote like word pad, with a standalone note without the whole app up so I can have my browser and my note side by side).

Man and Tools

A large part of what makes humans unique is our aptitude for interacting with tools. There are an abundance of blogs out there dedicated to new gadgets we can play with. Each one involves us adapting ourselves differently in order to accomplish new tasks or old tasks more efficiently. As my first blog post dedicated to new media (and, a sort of, new gadget) I ask you to take a look back at our ancestors, the stick wielding monkeys.

Our desires to play in new interfaces and explore new technologies is a little bit strange. I'm completely guilty of doing it even when I have no idea how it will ever serve me (I feel like this a little bit with google wave right now), but it is kinda fun. It could also be one of the thing that helps us to adapt to new media. Since things started changing rapidly around the industrial revolution we have gotten used to the excitement of new things, and though sometimes we may not know exactly what they amount to we seem to enjoy dreaming of the possibilities and learning to adapt ourselves.

Additional Topics To Explore Pertaining to Wave

History of e-mail (and maybe even snail mail)

Different methods for different content/content structure (for what do we use e-mail, wave, facebook, etc)

I found these posts / pages helpful in answering my specific questions