do I search for something I don't know I want to know?"
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.
Chapter 1; The Panopti(c)on of Media.
is the context of media?
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)
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 , 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.
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.
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 . 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 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.
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 . Using a spatial analogy is useful because it can describe, and in this way set the boundaries of what something is, and is not.
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].
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' . 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.
3; Virtual Machines.
to think with.
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.
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