HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH STENCILING ON THE CASING OF AN ATOMIC BOMB: MEDIUM OVERHEATING
MUSIC IN PHASE SPACE EPISODE 48
“Amid all that chaos and confusion, a hole quietly opened up in American history, a vacuum of accountability, into which assets human and financial begin to vanish. Back in the days of hippie simplicity, people liked to blame ‘the CIA’ or ‘a secret rogue operation.’ But this is a new enemy, unnamable, locatable on no organization chart or budget line — who knows, maybe even the CIA’s scared of them.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge
THE DIGITAL MEDIUM: NUMBERS
McLuhan departs from the media theory of Harold Innis in suggesting that a medium “overheats”, or reverses into an opposing form, when taken to its extreme. A hot medium is one that extends a single sense with high definition. High definition means a complete filling in of data by the medium without intense audience participation. Hot media are low in participation, or completion, by the extension of our nervous system, and cool media are high in participation. In the simplest sense: The water is boiling. The water is still. The water is frozen. In turn, these observable states are captured by measurement. The “invention of temperature” was no less than the fixing of water’s three states to one particular scale.
In anticipating the internet, McLuhan sounded a warning as much as a welcome.
“Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit by taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left.”
Technology is someone’s opinion in material form, sometimes it’s tantamount to being trapped in someone else’s head. The digital medium doesn’t really fit into McLuhan’s “hot” and “cool” dichotomy. Now we have multiple televisions and other types of screens (such as personal computers, laptops, cell phones, tablet computers) in multiple locations (including ourselves) that are available continuously to provide a stream of images, text, and information.
It encourages participation but it also sucks up our attention and dominates our senses. When we gaze into a computer screen, we tune out everything else. He offered a dark view of the commercial exploitation to come.
“The ground, or environment, is not a passive container, but active processes that influence the relationships between all of the elements in it.”
Figure and ground is a concept drawn from Gestalt psychology that underpins the meaning of his famous phrase, “The medium is the message” To McLuhan, “‘figure’ refers to something that jumps out at us, something that grabs our attention,” he says. “Ground” refers to “something that supports or contextualizes a situation and is usually an area of inattention” He believes that both are equally as important to understanding the full meaning of a situation.
To him, people tended to focus on only specific parts of the media, and disregard other parts. “To examine the total effect of any medium, McLuhan pointed out that we need to look at both figure and ground, and their relationship to one another. He believed that “only focusing on the ‘content’ of the media was like looking at figures without examining their ground.”
And computers, rather than freeing us from the printed word, have made text more ubiquitous wrapping us in a cocoon of text that would have boggled even Mcluhan’s mind. The contours of the resultant image are fleshed out within the imagination of the viewer, which necessitates great personal involvement and participation; the viewer, in fact, becomes the screen, whereas in film he becomes the camera.
Metabolizing information is a real challenge. The speed at which we can absorb information is much faster than the speed at which we can process it. The web browser mostly lets the search-engine rankings shape the individual’s understanding of the world. As a whole, society’s psychology is shaped by the websites we access and the interactions that follow.
CONTENT IS KING: YOU ARE THE CONTENT
“content of any medium is always another medium”
Thus, speech is the content of writing, writing is the content of print, and print itself is the content of the telegraph. He describes the “content” of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.
By stressing that the medium is the message rather than the content, Mcluhan is not suggesting that content plays no role merely that it’s subordinate role.
“The content or message of any particular medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb.
If you have been in a poker game for a while, and you still don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.
The business plan of most successful Internet companies is to offer a particular service for free. The framework of the platform is provided by the company, but the content of the service provided by users and/or the general public. The site attracts users with the prospect of a free and useful service, (essentially cannibalizing the very sources of the content they crave) The site itself makes revenue through selling advertising space. Oftentimes, the company collects information from its users through its activities on the platform.
YouTube allows people to make videos for free using crowd-sustained chatter. John Bare: This is a better business bet than paying people to create movies, books, and music. He says it’s better to play the statistical game of User Generated Content, as YouTube has, than place big bets on a few horses like network TV. Bare: If some free video of a silly stunt or the least-common-denominator antics will draw as many eyeballs as a professional filmmaker, why pay the filmmaker?
This was totally revolutionary; “content” from identifiable humans would no longer matter, and that the chattering of the crowd with itself was a better business bet than paying people to make movies, books, and music. Statistical algorithms supposedly take the risk out of making bets. Without risk, there was no need for skill. Music that had previously only been legally copied with the payment of a royalty would now be copied “ for free.
The new winners — Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 2.0 pie — were never meant to fill the shoes of the industries they aggregate and are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred.
Tetrad of media effects
McLuhan uses a tetrad to examine the effects on society of any technology/medium. He divides its effects into four categories and displays them simultaneously. The participatory nature of the experience itself is important, rather than the content of the particular image.
The tetrad consists of four questions.
- What does the medium enhance? Enhancement (figure=Content): What the medium amplifies or intensifies. For example, radio amplifies news and music via sound.
- What does the medium make obsolete? Obsolescence (ground=Medium): What the medium drives out of prominence. Radio reduces the prominence of print and the visual.
- What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier? Retrieval (figure=Content): What the medium recovers which was previously lost. Radio returns the spoken word to the forefront.
- What does the medium reverse or flip into when pushed to extremes? Reversal (ground=Medium): What the medium does when pushed to its limits. Acoustic radio flips into audio-visual TV.
Cognitive science shows that we can only really focus on one thing at a time. It also says that our brains decide, about every one-quarter of a second, whether to continue staying focused. There is, in effect, a contest being run in our minds as to which one object in our conscious contents will next get our attention.
Free content is designed to provide a large number of generally small rewards driven by neuromodulators such as dopamine, serotonin, and endocannabinoids. Our non-conscious minds have now associated going online with the expectation of being rewarded.
So now, whenever we see, hear, feel, about digital media, it gets “scored” by our non- conscious minds to be a likely source of reward. As a result, we’re being programmed to expect and desire a very unnatural state of immediacy. Our brains evolved to make use of neuro-modulator-based psychological reward system. That system was called on far, far less frequently .
In the digital age the goal of the individual is more like a large piece of virtual state. The race for geographical territory has been replaced by a race for virtual territory. The sciences are still unable to bridge the semantic gap. In fact, that gap between reality and meaning is increasing.
Toward a Linear World
The brain is by no means a machine. Human brains aren’t much at being precise. No human being can draw a perfect circle. No human can divide a line into perfectly equal segments. The human brain is not good at controlling any regular motion, a fact which translates into the human body’s inability to perform a consistent non-stop function.
The explanation for this is that the brain, like all other organs, is a nonlinear device programmed to “respond” quickly (if roughly) to continuous and spontaneous changes in the surrounding environment. Therefore it is not surprising that the behavior driven by that system is also irregular, and that dividing a line into segments of equal length is just physically impossible for a body driven by such a brain.
Yet one day computers were invented by that brain. Machines are linear systems. Machines have numerous advantages over human bodies. They don’t get sick, they work nonstop with no need for sleep or holidays. Their key advantage and difference, though, is that they are “precise”, the one quality that humans lack.
The advent of linear systems changed the history of the human race, because it enabled the industrial revolution. A human worker would not be capable of making thousands of pieces of metal or wood of the exact same length, especially if they had to be very small.
A nonlinear system like the brain, designed to perform nonlinear tasks, invented a linear system like a machine. Machines are literally turning the environment into a linear, stable, predictable system. We may ushering a linear world in which our nonlinear brains will not only become useless but even detrimental: they will look for complex solutions to simple problems.
Digital media are primarily an extension of the sense of touch rather than of sight. The pushback against digital media stemmed primarily from concern for modern mathematics. Non-Euclidean geometry, on the one hand, and the rise of numerical theory functions seemed to spell the end of western civilization.
Euclidean space itself was a direct consequence of the operation of the phonetic alphabet on human senses. It is an extension of man’s physical body.
The roots of both the number and the Euclidean space can be found in the psychological implications of the phonetic alphabet. We also saw how phonetic technologies promoted visual clarity and individuality. The show also looked at the role of numbers in the development of Western philosophy.
MAKING CULTURE LINEAR: HERE COMES EVERYBODY
The Internet allows ordinary people to express themselves for free. This constitutes, de facto, a new form of expression. The Internet makes it possible for everyone to become an artist, a poet, a scientist or a critic. The audience size depends primarily on your networking, not on your performance. Best of them will have a chance only but they would have to deal with the thousands of regular people who would do the same; and the industry will help those who follow the marketing efforts of the industry. A commutative contract whereby something is given so that something may be received in return.
In culture, the cultural and literary revolutions were self-sustaining waves of ideas. The fragmented existence of high-tech culture makes it difficult for an artistic phenomenon to reach critical mass. The value of the Big Four record labels of yesteryear was to bureaucratize creativity to make sure that it survives and can be harvested. The medium may produce a lot more ideas but they are less likely to survive.
A single dandelion may produce 2,000 seeds per year, indiscriminately firing them off into the sky at the slightest breeze. The disposition of each — or even most of the seeds aren’t the important thing, from a dandelions point of view. The dandelion doesn’t want to nurse a single precious copy of itself in the hopes that it will leave the nest and carefully navigate its way to the optimum growing environment, there to perpetuate the line.
Most of content chatter online is driven by fanboys responses 3–4 orders of expression removed from the original. Trolling about TV shows, tentpoles releases, and whatever’s left of the legacy Music Industry has almost as much traffic as porn. Expression of first order is when someone introduces a whole, a work which incorporates their own worldview and aesthetics.
Second order expression is composed of fragmentary responses to first-order expression. A film like Blade Runner is an invention of first order, as was the book that influenced it, but a mashup in which a scene from the film is followed by the favorite music of the unknown masher is not in the same category.
Generation X has been compared to pattern exhaustion. A common rationalization was that we were entering a transitional lull before a creative storm. We had instead entered a persistent somnolence. McLuhan argues that media can “heat up” over time. As screen technology has heated up over time thus the hot versus cool media distinction describes effects, not definitions. John Locke employed his lukewarm-bucket-of-water experiment to argue that heat was not a property of water.
VALUE SWITCHES TO ADVERTISEMENT
Post-modern fiction in the ’90s and TV intersect to the extent that they both deploy irony. TV is extremely good at deflecting, absorbing and redeploying criticisms of itself. Irony can be useful, entertaining and effective, but it’s also problematic and soul-destroying. It’s useful to remember David Foster Wallace when he referenced that Pop-culture images and references have become viable subjects.
A new narrative emerged in the late ’80s and early ’90s informed by a particular impulse to “respond” to TV’s all-pervasive influence and power. It was an actually just an extension of realism, an attempt to mimic the strange, mediated reality of our world. Almost always, this ironic narrative fails to provide any meaningful escape from TV’s nefarious impulse. This is because TV has already absorbed these criticisms and turned them into profitable material.
Digital media and advertising have become increasingly indistinguishable. Both are good at morphing to meet the needs and respond to the concerns of their audience. At one point, this involved acknowledging the ridicule that digital media itself faced. Irony was once useful and politically needed, but it lives on as a destructive force.
Advertising is elevated by open culture from its previous role as an accelerant. “Commercials” represent a truer means of communication. The narrative type, borrowed from earlier print technologies, simply doesn’t have time.
Advertising and marketing have never made up more than three or four percent of our total economic activity. For the high valuations of the digital and social media companies selling this data to make sense, the entire sector of the economy would have to grow many times its size.
Who would be left to do the advertising, or even be advertised to? Digital media’s critics fail to see it as a completely new technology that requires different sensory responses. He says adverts would be inappropriate if they didn’t preconditioned the viewer for sudden zooms, elliptical framing, no plot lines.
A NEW DARK AGE: The Gulf War Did Not Take Place
“The idea of a clean war, like that of a clean bomb or an intelligent missile, this whole war conceived as a technological extrapolation of the brain is a sure sign of madness. It is like those characters in Hieronymus Bosch with a glass bell or a soap bubble around their head as a sign of their mental debility. A war enclosed in a glass coffin, like Snow White, purged of any carnal contamination or warrior’s passion. A clean war which ends up in an oil slick.”
“Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.”
This is the first time since electrification that the western world’s dominant popular community has wrapped itself exclusively in retro styles. The emergence and adoption of groundbreaking pop culture by teenagers in the mid-1990s has become so routine that we no longer even recognize it. By placing all the stress on content, we lose all chance of influencing the impact of new technologies.
I feel like culture froze just before it digitally opened up and all we can do now is mine the past like salvagers picking up a garbage dump. The entire idea of modern media was that we needed to come up with fresh, innovative cultural language but immersive virtual worlds; not only games, but simulations with a spiritual and artistic scope.
Millennials and the Lords of the Clouds are instead the serf and king of this new iteration. Human imagination and knowledge are regarded, in any case, as meaningless. The only wealth-generating endeavor left will be the Internet platforms that share all of this information. This is the fate we can expect unless we change the game we are currently playing.
An environment becomes fully visible only when it has been superseded by a new one. We tend to make the old environment more visible by turning it into an art form and by attaching ourselves to the objects and atmosphere that characterized it, think of jazz, pop art or hard rock. In the midst of the electronic age of software, of instant information movement, we still believe we’re living in the mechanical age of hardware. At the height of the mechanical age, man turned back to earlier centuries in search of “pastoral” values.
In the name of progress our official culture strives to force the new media into the old ‘s work. These are difficult times because we are seeing a conflict between mediums of cataclysmic implications. Both reflect a typical failure; the effort to do a job using the resources of the old required by the new world.
One conservative response is to blame outmoded technology and propose advances that empower the viewer to exercise absolute choice. This would not address the basis of the digital media bind, it would merely enhance the fantasies that digital media already constructs. Perhaps the most fulfilling and rebellious response would be to risk ridicule and espouse good old-fashioned virtues.
The most technologically advanced part of Europe was destroyed by the two world wars. The human race has created two major threats to life on Earth in the last 50 years. The odds that we succeed seem to increase with technological progress. What will be the next human-engineered threat to life in the future? Does life always self-destroy, everywhere in the universe?
STENCILING THE FUTURE
Our overextended central nervous system is combination of library, post office and mail order. We do not like to think that we have become that because we like to pretend that all those actions we perform for free are actually that. A way to make us even more legible that we already were and cannot imagine doing things another way.
Could it be that with our commitment to a limitless, expansive future ran out of empty spaces to colonize and turn inward the idea of limitless because the technologies that did emerge proved to be more conductive to surveillance and control. The only breakthroughs have been those that made it easier to create, transfer and rearrange virtual projections of things that already exist or probably never will that have allow manufacturers to employ much less sophisticated production line overseas.
We were thinking about computers capable of thoughts, geodesic domes on Mars, cornucopia machines, telekinetic mind devices. But the meta medium has played a crucial role in this narrowing of our imaginations so has all the software has turned into part time administrators but the truth is that we have been mere carriers for the meta medium at the same time creating astronomical levels of debt, destroyed job security, and burn though several layers of social capital.
Advertising takes its place at the center of the universe of a society that has been made legible and if money flows to advertising it does not flow to artists, musicians, writers. It flows to mechanisms of manipulation. If content is worthless then people are worthless too. Only one product can maintain value as everything else is devalued. Advertising
You just need to look at Pixel fatigue caused by CGI to realize that we were supposed to be doing that stuff already not figuring out more sophisticated ways of simulating it. Most technologies allow us to make imitations that purport to be better than the real thing.
What if post-modernism is a rumination on all the promises that never happened. Computers are a compensation for #insteadoflyingcarswehave but the truth is that we haven’t moved to the point that people in the fifties imagined we’d have reached by now. You still can’t have a meaningful conversation with a computer and protocol robots ain’t a thing.
Anxiety in place of fulfilment. An addictive cycle of craving and malaise. No sooner has one experience begun that buyers remorse creeps in We are the new serfs to the IP Kings in this iteration. Trust the crowd and the big n that removes the risks of creativity
So the Real sword of destiny is not the coming up with the idea of a car but as well with the parking problem, not the TV but also reality shows, not streaming but the destruction of whole ecosystems producing cultural signal , not the bomb but MAD
Without your existential super-self you will certainly die in wars of the future out among satellites, torn apart by AIs in the death throes of their own identity crisis. It’s an invention problem. Diffraction is transmogrification