If anyone who reads this is on friends with me on Facebook, I apologize. I’ve been bitten by the Sims Social bug, and I don’t have any plans to stop anytime soon. I went through the trouble of learning the new Facebook interface enough to create a group just for my Sims updates, but every once in a while, they slip through. So for that I apologize.

I ask myself how in the world I would get so drawn into something like that. I played Farmville once, but it was a short lived affair. I ignore all the other game requests. I don’t have time to play these games, and yet somehow Sims has become something that invades my psyche when I’m sitting alone and bored, and anytime I’m on Facebook.

In Media Virus, Douglas Rushkoff argues about the viral nature of the media object: rather than being a metaphor, media events are viruses. He argues:

“We live in an age when the value of data, images, and ideologies has surpassed that of material acquisitions and physical territory…the only place left for our civilization to expand – our only real frontier – is the ether itself: the media (4).”

Once, many eons ago, I used to play the “real” Sims on a PC. I would recreate my own world with all of my childhood friends in their own houses. I made hypothetical children with my hypothetical husband. I went shopping with my hypothetical girlfriends. I took care of my hypothetical pets after getting home from my hypothetical job. When in a particularly bad mood, or just feeling silly, I hypothetically killed my Sims off in horrendous ways, like drowning in a pool with no ladder, or catching the kitchen on fire.

I say these with a sense of macabre humor because I know I’m not the only one that did these things. But eventually, the majority of us grew out of it. We went onto more productive things like Myspace, and then Facebook, and now Google Plus. If you were a gamer, you leveled up to more violent endeavors like Street Fighter and Halo (of course, speaking from experience).

So why are so many of us guilty of jumping so readily into Sims Social? It is, in Rushkoff’s own words, the Trojan horse (7). We adopt it quickly because of it’s familiarity, it is a gameplay that we understand well, both from pervious experience with the brand, and it’s reflection of our own lives. Once we are inside, we see the symbols of commercialism: how they entice you to buy points, the quests that keep you more and more, and those nagging reminders that you have not paid enough attention to Friend A, who in this instance is played by the actual Friend A.

Sims Social plays on our desire for more human interaction on the web. The datasphere according to Rushkoff is “the new territory for human interaction, economic expansion, and especially social and political machination” (4).

Human interaction. Check. Economic expansion, you bet (my currency may be low, but my house value is great!). Social and political machination? You bet (Sorry friend J. I constantly put spiders in your toilet.)

Now back to me gaining skills on my Haunted Typing Machine-Thing.

1998 Japanese horror film Ringu, adapted from the Ring novel by Koji Suzuki follows a divorced family who attempt to track down a cursed videotape. The videotape when watched, will cause the viewer to die 1 week later.

The main character, reporter Rekio Asakawa starts researching the popularity of the curse after finding out her niece Tomoko and three of her friends died after seeing the tape.

Though heralded as being one of the most frightening horror films in Japan, there were many incongruencies in the film that created an air of disbelief for me, thus negating the scare-effect.

  1. When Reiko tracks the tape down to the cottage on Izu Island, her first action is to watch it. The whole film up to this point she is acting less like a reporter and more like a scared child, so the concept of then taking this video and watching it, greatly reduces the credibility of Reiko as a character.
  2. Realizing she’s cursed, she calls her ex husband, makes a copy of the film, and shows it to him. Come on now. Seriously? Because if I thought I was cursed, the first thing I would do is show the father of my child, so we can die together and leave our child without parents
  3. Even more valiantly, she leaves the tape in her home. So of course her eerie child picks it up and watches it, saying “Tomoko made me do it”. I wish I was ingenious enough to blame things on ghosts of relatives as a kid. Well, at least they can all be one happy, cursed family together.
  4. Rather than spending time with her now cursed family (all thanks to her, mind you), she goes on a manhunt for spirits. Time to go spelunking in a well, and cradle a dead body of the girl who cursed the tape. Congratulations, you’re alive, but enjoy whatever diseases you picked up down there. (It should be noted that throughout all of this, there are random flashbacks. First, we think it’s the husband after he admits to being a psychic. Then she starts getting them – I think? Either way, great way to explain everything really fast.
  5. Except, she’s wrong. Ex-husband dies anyways. But at least she gets to keep her kid.

As much as I razz on the actual plot line and the lack of believability of the characters, I realize that this is both from a different time period and a different culture, where there is less desensitization thanks to special effect blood, guts, and gore. Japan is also a culture that has a lot more belief in spirits and curses than our own.

What I did like about Ringu, was the actual history behind the curse, though it isn’t made totally clear how it ended up on a video tape. The concept of the female psychic in history has always been persecuted, so bringing that to light is very historically accurate. The tension created by never showing the daughter, but implying heavily that she is to blame for the deaths is very effective in creating fear.

Similarly, the ultimate resolution to the tape is what I think makes the story so perfect. This curse, which deforms people’s faces so grotesquely in fear when they die, has such a simplistic cure: it just wants to live, in the sense that any virus wants to live. It passes from host to host to host via people watching the tape, and showing it to others.

The story is simple and poignant, with great cinematography and and a successfully eerie and creepy vibe. Though I criticize the actions of the main character, the story still remains solid.

This is Not a Chair

September 27, 2011

My junior year of high school, l I took a logic course what I realize now to be a wonderful professor. On the first day of class, he took a chair and put on top of his desk in the middle of the room.

“Is this a chair?” he asked.

Of course, the students answered, “Of course, duh”.

“So what if I told you this was not a chair?” he responded. People were confused. The conversation went on for about a week. Each day he would put the chair on the desk and ask us, “Prove to me that this is not a chair”.

No one ever got it. But we were in high school.

Reading Fuller’s Media Ecologies, I’m immediately reminded of this experiment, and what he was actually trying to get us to do.

The chair was the mass-produced standard object. It was made for the sole purpose of supporting someone while they were sitting. While it was on top of the desk, it could not perform its intended purpose, so therefore, it could not exist in the normal understanding of a “chair”. Which begs further questions. If a chair has no back, is it still a chair (when most call it a stool)? If it has three legs and can no longer support a human body, is it still a chair? Or if someone placed papers on top of it, would it be a table?

Dr. Ferrar – you would be so proud.

But with the rapid emergence of technology, that argument can be so much more. From a philosophical perspective, the fallacy lies in the language: what one person views as a chair, another views as a stool. There is a difference between a futon, a sofa, and a chair though they still have the same basic purpose. This is even further construed when you take into account that those words are translated differently in multiple languages, meaning what might be a futon to you or me is really a sofa in Switzerland (bear in mind, this is not a substantiated statement. I actually have no idea how to say futon in Switzerland, nor what it really translates to).

Technology has inherently made most aspects of our lives modular: so much is built to serve more than one purpose. Fuller writes:

What arises when two or more standard processes with their own regimes, codes, modes of use and deportment, systems of transduction, and so on, become conjoined? (99)

The iPhone was revolutionary because it was more than the preconceived notion of a phone. It was a computer, a gaming device, a camera, and so much more. Now, when we hear the word phone, the mind jumps to the picture of the “smartphone”. Those who do not have smartphones are sneered at as being outdated and inefficient.

Inefficiency is the problem that technology has begun to solve. Fuller argues,

The standard object is a result of operations in matter made possible by the ruse of abstraction: misplaced concreteness (103).

The standard object suffers from the ruse of abstraction, but at a much more rapidly changing environment. The iPhone is the new phone. While a classic phone that just makes calls is still considered a phone, it is rarely viewed as such.

So where does that leave the poor chair? Is it inefficient if it sits atop a desk? In certain situations. Our value system has changed, and continues to change so drastically with the exponential growth in available networks and tools. Everything, as Fuller agrees, takes on a collective value (106). But there is something still inherently beautiful in it’s simplicity. It serves its desired purpose in its original design. But it can also be so much more. The new philosophical question is, should it really be more than a chair? Fuller argues, “…solutions create problems, local stabilizations or the development of the concrete” (107).  It is both inspiring and frightening at the same time.

Image from Flickr User designklein under Creative Commons License.

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson recaps the event that lead up to the massive cholera outbreak in London: how it began, how it spread at an exponential rate, and how it eventually was ended.

When given the excruciating details that Johnson lays out, it is apparent that the situation was ripe for such an immense outbreak, though those living in those conditions where not aware. A few poignant comments that Johnson made directly relate to the way viral media reacts exponentially:

“Epidemics create a kind of history from below: they can be world-changing, but the participants are almost inevitably ordinary folk, following their established routines, not thinking for a second about how their actions will be recorded for posterity.”

When looking at the channels in which viral media travel, namely Youtube or Twitter, the people that create the media, who share it, and who expound upon it are the average population. There is no specific demographic, or type of personality that is more prone to viral media (though it is true that more often than not those who are savvy with the technologies required tend to be younger). Everyone’s interest is different, but no longer is media constrained to traditional boundaries.

“Desire in this case is a matter of ends, not means: the organisms wants a certain environment because the settling allows it to reproduce more effectively than other environments…”

This makes me look at the people who post media specifically with the hopes and intentions for something to go viral. For example, lets take a look at something from a few years ago, the Balloon Boy Hoax:

This was the video that was meant to go viral. And it did, on both traditional and nontraditional media channels. They found the perfect environment for that video, normal people who would be worried for another human being and capatilized on it. Here’s the video from when they announced that it was a hoax:

And as we now know, that whole incedent did not bode well for Falcon’s father.

Furthermore, an important point that Johnson makes regarding the ultimate discovery of the cause of Cholera was how many people, despite the evidence, clung to what was deemed the “miasma” theory, liking the pungent smells of the city to some type of disease that had to be airborne. Despite’s Snow’s evidence on the contrary, arguing that the cause was actually contaminated water, the medical community at the time continued to cling to their beliefs.

“Whenever smart people cling to an outlandishly incorrect idea despite substantial evidence to the contrary, something interesting is at work. In the case of miasma, that something involves a convergence of multiple forces, all coming together to prop up a theory that should have died out decades before.

What strikes me about viral media, especially as it relates to something like news stories or events broadcast on Youtube or Twitter is the propensity for people to believe almost anything, despite actual proof. How we have created an environment ripe for disbelief, with hoaxes all over the internet. And yet we still choose to disseminate information that we know may or may not be true.

At the same time, we are torn in situations where viral media gets to important events first. What about the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed? Twitter followers discovered it first. Though we didn’t get an actual statement till long after, the point remained and the news went viral anyways. Or how about the recent riots in London?

While I was in San Diego for Comic-Con International this past summer, though I was surrounded by technology, I didn’t have my computer with me, so I was at the same time cut off from a lot of my daily news. After hearing the buzz after it was announced that there would be a Jurassic Park 4, I decided to hop on Twitter on my phone. In trending topics, #jurassicpark was number 1. Right below that was #oslo. Not knowing anything about #oslo, I soon discovered the shootings that were occurring, right as I was watching. While I couldn’t understand many of the tweets on the subject, people were sending in pictures taken on phones of bodies floating in the river. It wasn’t until almost a day later that any news came to US broadcast, and I never saw any of those pictures.

It begs an interesting question, how Youtube and Twitter play in creating viral media. Often we look at viral media as the cute, the humorous, or even the dumb, but it can be so much more. There are equal advantages and disadvantages to receiving our news as one would an epidemic.

If analyzing the word “hacking” or “to hack”, one almost immediately comes to a metal composite image of all the sinister movie and television representations of the “hacker”, generally the young male, bright, incredibly adept at electronics and horribly equipped socially, in his basement causing mayhem and mischief. There is a paradigm shift occurring surrounding this terminology. Rather, we have both regressed back to the original definition of term and expanded it. A hack, in essence, is a reconfiguration or reprogramming of a technological system to function in a way different than originally intended by its creator. Increasingly the term “hacking” brings up a cultural image of the do-it-your-self mentality, collaboration, and about taking something and turning it into something else with greater benefits.

What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rodgers discusses this concept on a broad level; pinpointing the many levels that collaboration has begun grow into the norm. One of the key values Botsman and Rodgers discusses is collaborative lifestyles, often emerging from a belief in common information. We have reached a place where the fight for equality of information is a valid and heated debate among many groups. The way the information age has shaped our mentality is by empowering people to be creators of information rather than passive retainers of standardized knowledge. Thanks to a wealth of resources, no longer is the world about having the right answer, but asking the right questions.

Collaborative communities, both on a virtual level and a physical level are allowing people to share information and educate one another at little or no cost to either party. The term “do-it-yourself” actually refers to a community-wide mentality against buying in excess, but learning skills and obtaining knowledge against the mainstream channels. There is a bond that is created between members of the same community, a trust that would not normally exist, by the equality that each member is both an expert and a student at the same time. Collaborative communities are straying away from the capitalist view of education: that education is for the end goal to get a job and make a profit. Rather, there has been a resurgence of renaissance ideals of innovation, combined with thrift and efficiency, and furthered with the constantly evolving technologies.

The organizations and people that have been proponents of the ideals of collaborative communities are not new, but the accessibility has only emerged recently with the ability and awareness to connect digitally, and therefore globally. There are physical locations all over the word where people with common interests, usually in computers, technology, or digital or electronic art meet, socialize, and collaborate. They are open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, artist’s studios, and schools where individuals can come together to share resources. With the power of the Internet, these communities are able to communicate more freely with one another, across state lines and oceans. They are able to share a wealth of information and skills with one another, bringing learning and skills to other communities that might not have had access previously. Together these communities can plan projects and events at low or no cost, coming together at events to show off their projects and show both similarities and differences in each individual community. These communities have also been proponents of collaborating to bring skills and resources to those less fortunate around the world.

Just as the concept of identity is being constantly adapted and altered as people grow their digital presence alongside their physical one, the concept of community is also growing and expanding. No longer are communities cloistered by their physical boundaries, they are interconnected on a global level. This gives individuals more access to information and education, furthering the individual experience. Ultimately, collaborative communities are raising the standards of living by raising the standard

Make it Better

January 19, 2011

Yarn Monster

January 15, 2011

[via Craft]

Kinetic Scuptures

January 13, 2011

[via Make]

The Brick Thief

January 12, 2011

The Move

December 20, 2010

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