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"How do I search for something I don't know I want to know?"


One way of finding something in an abundance of potential information (data) is to get lost. In order to get lost one first has to lose all references, enabling one to look at the surroundings differently, like if you would look at it for the first time.

At the end of the 18th century a French expedition left for the North Pole in an attempt to reach the exact pole. The expedition was not heard from again. Two years later a second expedition left in their footsteps to find out what had happened. After two months of searching they found the physical remains of what appeared to be all the expedition members, next to their frozen equipment, and a strange phenomenon. From this place of horror a row of pillars, made from stone and ice, left towards the horizon, with a great distance between them. Realizing that this could only have been made by a survivor, the second team decided to follow the trail. The pillars were build at such a distance from each other that standing near one of them, and looking backwards, one could only see the previous two up to the horizon. In the totally empty landscape, devoid from any references, this was the only way to keep walking in a straight line. In the following days the pillars took on the size and shape of human figures, eventually becoming sculpted in such a way that the faces of the dead men left behind could be seen in them. On the fifth day the expedition reached the last pillar. It was the last man himself, frozen solid, standing in the landscape and staring into the immeasurable depth of the icy plane.

A story I remember reading when I was a kid.

Chapter 1; The Panopti(c)on of Media.

What is the context of media?


MCI Commercials:

"The universe is information. Information can be digitized. Digital data
can be transmitted. Every movie, every book, every piece of knowledge in
the universe. Right here!"

"A brain inside a head in Ohio, is studied by a surgeon in Tokyo. A
mothers face in france appears on a telephone in New York. A virtual
journey to any moments in time. The possibilities are endless."

"There will be a road... It will not connect two points... It will
connect all points. It's speed limits will be? ... The speed of light.
It will not go from here to there. There will be no more there."


Sitting at a computer, with the TV nearby, today's newspaper on the table, with the radio on, the bookshelf in the next room, and a pile of CD's ready to be played, I am in the middle of the media-world. For my daily dose of hype I'll have no shortage. As an utter information junkie I make sure that if I would want to know something, the correct information will be within arms length. Still I'm very uncomfortable; there are a couple of books at the other end of the city, at my place of work, and the computer doesn't have a net-connection. My all-seeing and all-knowing is worrying incomplete. There's a lot of information I know where I can find it, but at this moment I do not have access to it. Besides, I know where this information is, but I can't remember what the information was exactly. I remembered the reference to the information, not the information itself. Exit the 'Homo Universalis', what a mess. The ideal situation would have been very different of course, like the commercials of all large telecommunication companies suggest; all potential information within reach with the speed of light... Everyone and everything connected. There won't be a question anymore or through the wonders of present-day technology the awnser will be provided. "The new ways of communication after the digital revolution, will entertain as well as inform us. And more important, they will educate, enhance democracy and save lives. And while they are doing this, they will create many jobs, infact, they already are." (Al Gore)


AT&T Commercials:

"Have you ever watched the movie you wanted to, the minute you wanted
to? Or learned special things? Or tucked your baby in from a phone
booth?... You will!"

"Have you ever hired a book from 1000 and 1000 of miles away? Learned
special things? Got any questions from far away places? Or attended a
meeting at the beach on your bare feet?... You will!"


If I set aside the largest portion of the invading rhetorics of such commercials, and just look at the spatial analogies being made here, something becomes very noticeable. The new media change the traditional notions of time and space; with as a primary consequence a change in what we call 'place'. The communication media add a virtual space next to the physical one [1], and because of the progress in technology, the explosive growth and the accessibility of these media, this space gains importance as opposed to the physical one. More and more social- and work-related functions are 'mediatised', and there's more and more to choose from; entertainment, news, home-banking, tele-transactions, home-shopping, everything stops happening here or there, but happens here ánd there. The important word which one can put in front of everything by now is "tele-", and the 'far' is not limited anymore to collectively watching, but has been extended to individual action. Those things coming towards us through the media consequently becomes more, more intensive (demanding attention), more live (present time), and much more personal, because we chose for it ourselves.


"In terms a little different for each medium, this is the result: a
space, that of the FM band, is found to be saturated, the stations
overlap and mix together (to the point that sometimes it no longer
communicates at all). Something that was free by virtue of space is no
longer. Speech is free perhaps, but I am less free than before: I no
longer succeed in knowing what I want, the space is so saturated, the
pressure so great from all who want to make themselves heard."

Baudrillard, Selected Writings, 132.


The combination of physical space and all information media, I'll call "mediatized space", not only because I experience information as something spatial (because of 'where' it came from, and how it 'relates' to other information), but also to get rid of the difference between the two [see 'Space & Data', chapter 2]. The largest part of this mediatized space is invisible without the machines and interfaces which can translate the data to signals within the spectrum of human perception. By collecting as many of these machines as possible in one room, one creates the ideal 'home' for the mediatized space; resembling a present day 'Panopticon', the electronic home and office are connected to the world. I use this analogy to be able to deconstruct the media-spaces, in an attempt to reformulate how people are able to live and move through these spaces. The 'real' Panopticon was a type of prison architecture from the 18th century, with the primary function that all cells could be seen, and hence guarded, from a central tower, but not the in other way around. This wasn't just from a practical point of view, but was also conceptualized as an artificial 'conscience'. The prisoners would -knowing that they were watched- get used to the idea of an 'other', and the consequences of their actions through repercussion. Foucault used this architectural analogy to criticize the institutions and controlling mechanisms of society. The panoptical technology represented the organizational structure of social control which he called the 'virtual apparatus'. That I use this analogy to describe the present day pérsonal spaces is deliberate. The principle of the central viewpoint, and the outward directed overview is similar to that of the panopticon, and besides that I think that the virtual apparatus is the same for personal media, but that these have imploded towards the individual, with all kinds of consequences.

First, I have to point to the fact that there is no such thing as a 'complete' view when we talk about media. Everything which is mediated, has to be thought of first. This means that the unmediated is the unimagined [2], or, in other words, that those things that could not be imagined, can not be shown in the media. This inability to imagine causes the existence of 'forgotten' areas, where the media do not have access to. The lack of information means that there are still places! A place is there where the lacking information is situated; the literal 'forgotten area' somewhere. Hence we cannot talk about the complete disappearence of the 'there'. These are the places which at the same time fall outside of the world-economy (or on a smaller scale outside of the local economy) and outside of the parallel world of the networks [3]. The media are never 'true' because they cannot produce a complete image of reality. At the same time the things that do not appear in the media are not true because they do not exist. The latter can be nicely illustrated the notion of the 'cover-up'. These two contradictions combined is the first paradox of the media. The second paradox is that everything accessible could in principle be seen, but that it has become so much, that it will never be seen. I call this: "Everything is possible, everything is impossible." For a lot of large-scale information systems -like military- this is a common (logistical) dilemma. The same thing however is true for the individual, but here this leads to a moral dilemma.
Another thing is that one cannot see without being seen, but that the technology with which one looks is increasingly invisible. It is because of this that the most invisible technologies are the most important ones, because they are the vehicles of power, and the domain -the territorial 'land'- of power struggle [4]. Then, finally, are we able to choose what we want to see?
Because of the 'information-overload' the level of being informed becomes the responsibility of the viewer, and in a sense, the viewer becomes a prisoner (out) of choice. Besides, more and more valuable information becomes trapped in inaccessible information systems, or in systems where one first has to pay to get access, without knowing exactly what information you will get.
This then is the Information-society.


"If one can control knowledge (which you can filter, manipulate, record,
relay, duplicate, diffuse and sell -and in doing so endlessly
"interpret"), you control meaning, and what we mean by our "selves"."

Foucault, "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison",p 195.


Foucault has argumented that the virtual apparatus use 'Technologies of the Self', and that these are able to discipline society according to it's ideologies. The same technologies in the domain of the publicly accessible media however enable small groups of people to form collectives based on a set of shared ideas, in short; to form 'knowledge tribes', and they enable them to exist within the networked media, without dependency on geographical location [5]. Hence the Panopticon is also the cell where others have access to, where through the collected interfaces, and their respective limitations, we can look at, and be looked at by, the 'other'.


"The task of designing and implementing the library extension had been
fundamentally redefined. It was no longer one of laying out and
constructing a building, with storage and circulation areas, to house
the shelf space required by an expanding collection. It became one of
designing and programming the computer tools for storing, querying,
retrieving, and displaying digitally encoded text. Henceforth, the
library would be extensible and reconfigurable in software."

William J. Mitchell, "City of Bits"


The personal 'place' within the mediatized space, becomes an issue of the creating of a personal media space, with personal data and personal interfaces. The question is what to look at and what not to look at at all, what to look for and how to do this, and what to save in order to forget. The way in which the data is accessible eventually determines what use it is to you. Looking back now on my own place and my own data, I thought it was important to create a medium which would enable me to access the data in a way not possible yet. I wanted a system which would be able to generate, in such a way that it would be suggestive to myself, reacting on my input and 'original' enough to create relations between the data which were not preprogrammed. I wanted a tool enabling the user to search for something you would not know you wanted to know.


"The productive relation to new technologies is modification (not
adaption). This has to be one in which chaos, noise, and interference
are not seen just as the backdrop against which order, sense, and
control play, [....] but as desirable and inevitable. ... The concern is
no longer with demonstrating the vulnerability of meaning to chaos and
nonsense or the non-exclusivity of any medium that claims intimacy with
objects, but with the coded control of these media themselves."

DN2K, Galen Meurer



Chapter 2; Space & Data.

submerged in abundance.


Where is the information I don't know I want to know? Is it justified to assume that it's 'next' to the information I want to know? In that case it's in the context! To answer this i'd first have to explain why information would be something spatial. It is off cource common to talk about space in the context of information and it's media, by using terms as 'Cyberspace', 'Television', 'Datasphere' and 'Network', but this isn't self-evident. Digital data are large collections of linear zeros and ones, there's nothing more than two dimensions in this. However, I experience information in data itself as a spatial dimension because of the relations between the data. Like I mentioned before because the information 'relates to' and has a certain origin, e.g. a certain discourse, a specific person, or a specific word. In this way the information relating to each other are 'closer' to each other than the data which do not relate. A certain principle can also fall within an other one, because the one presumes the other. Because of the necessity to describe the relations between relating information, one can assume that those things will be in relative proximity of each other in a text. The largest part of something relating to a specific word is in the context of that word. The relations are described with terms like 'and', 'or', 'if...then' and 'while', but e.g. also with 'out' or 'in', in the same way as programming languages or the philosophy of ideal language [1]. Using a spatial analogy is useful because it can describe, and in this way set the boundaries of what something is, and is not.


"If we assume that a true principle is true because it makes a statement about reality, then it follows that the word 'real' has no meaning, as does the word 'unreal'. If we explain these two horizons as: "nothing is completely 'real'" and "nothing is completely 'unreal'", a new ontology is created. This ontology relates to every 'field', which is between reality and irreality. This field we call, in traditional definitions, the 'possible'. (or 'probable', red.)

Then because of this we [nowadays] talk about possibilities and potentials. These potentials move between two borders. They move from the border of the unreal and start with improbibilities, though the more probable to the border where the values of probability have reached their highest degree. And on the point where the improbable becomes the probable, we speak of virtuality."

Vilém Flusser, ARCH +, march 1992.


The pure information I'd like to trace, I cannot know in advance, but in any case it is 'strange' to me. The 'sidedata' I want is a 'strange-item'. Searching for contexts therefore is not enough. To increase the possibility for the 'strange' (or the 'other') I'd have to enlarge the associative space. The creation of this space is possible by deconstructing the relations between the words [see 'Virtual Machines]. Within this new space it is probable that 'strange' objects fall within the field of meaning. This then makes the text less meaningful, but at the same time potentially new and informative [or virtual].


"It is not difficult to recognize the mass exodus from the mainland
(physical space) to the new lands (electronic spaces) as having a history.
For example, here is an example of early British Colonial discovery and
exploration: "The main object for which you are dispatched on this occasion
is ... you will have to discover and survey all capes, forelands, bights,
lands ... You will moreover go ashore in various places and diligently
examine the coast in order to ascertain whether or not it is inhabited, the
nature of the land and the peoples, their towns and inhabited
villages, the divisions of their kingdoms, their religion and polity, their
wars, etc..." ....they never remembered."

john barlow, "Information overload in electronic space"

The space embodied by information and data is abstract in a high degree. This means that the navigation through this space becomes problematic. For example, it's possible to use an analogy, which provides us with references, but these are always autonomous. They are 'a way to see'. The metaphor itself is a 'traceable river trough the terra incognita' [2]. By saying that the invisible is 'strange' in any case, I can go on and say that the 'strange' is identifiable by it's degree of 'originality'. With this I don't mean it should be a text from the primary source, instead of something which was translated or a text about a text, but that the information a cause is for, a source is for. The result of the original is a redefinition, an addition, a loss or a sublimation. Because the eventual goal is not the extacy about the confusion and the chaos, but the extacy about the new finding.

The primary issue about using data, for me, is not about navigation but about getting lost. The disorientation forces one to relate oneself to the data and to interpret it, to give it meaning.


Chapter 3; Virtual Machines.

Machines to think with.

project: Quotewars


Following was a brief explanation of the installation "Quotewars" and the accompanying database and systems architecture . . .


- - - - - - - - -


footnotes Chapter 1;

1. The difference between real and virtual I interpret here as respectively the world which we can be aware of with our senses, and the world which we can be aware of with the aid of machines between us and the world.

2. Hakim Bey, from the article "The Obelisk".

3. For more on the forgotten area's and the economical causes, see Manuel Castells, "The Rise of the Network Society", Cptr. 5, or Saskia Sassen, "Die neue Zentralität".

4. For a thorough analyses about present day technology as mechanisms of power, see Manuel de Landa, "War in the age of Intelligent Machines."

5. Gene Youngblood, "Metadesign" (article from KunstForum, 'Asthetik des Immateriellen'); "Dies (öffentliche metamedien) würde jedem Benutzer die Möglichkeit geben, sich entweder an das gesamte Netzwerk oder auch an spezifische Gruppen zu wenden. Die Folge wäre eine Gleichverteilung der Macht." p 79 ... "Aber wenn diese Welten politisch nicht einflussreich, wenn also ihre "Macht" der betreffenden Herausforderung nicht proportional ist, dann haben sie im physikalischen Raum keine Existenzmöglichkeit. In einem solchen Fall können wir sie daher nur im virtuellen Raum realisieren,..." p 78.

For a thorough background on virtual culture , see Manuel Castells, "The Rise of the Network Society", Hst 5.

footnotes Chapter 2;

1. e.g: In the article "Truth by Convention" the language philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine analytically demonstrates what the letters 'p' and 'q' refer to in the proposition "if p then q'. A famous line of his was 'to be is a value of a variable'.

2. One way for early day discoverers to go in to an unknown territory ('terra incognita') was by following a river, going upstream from the coast. In this way the surroundings always gave them their way home.

One of the more beautiful landmarks in an almost totally abstract space are three-armed sanddunes in the deserts, these move very slow next to the 'waving' sanddunes surrounding it. Desert nomads use them to help fix their positions.



©Marten Terpstra, 1999
final thesis mfa media-gn