Monthly Archives: May 2011

The digitalnormative

I still have to write up my take in how ‘effects’ in the media sense should be thought of as a framework of invisibility but today I’ve been thinking about something else.

To the extent that contemporary globalNorth societies can be thought of as digital, the analog poses a peculiar problem. If I want to do my banking or get my bills by postal mail I now have to pay. Environmentally this makes sense but it also represents a particular digitalnormativity within our culture. To my mind the analog is represented as a disruption, replaced instead by digital efficiencies and a rhetoric of transformation.

Ironically, despite the growing ubiquity of digital technologies, most hardware and software producers are working harder by the day to replicate the embodied analog experiences that they once sought to replace.

In the face of the alienations of a supposed digital culture I wonder if digitalnormativity is not just an emergent state of invisibility. Through a closer examination we may well find that we do not live in a digital culture after all, just in cultures in which digitalnormativity is but a context of practice.


I’ve been playing around with ideas for the edited collection I’m proposing on the topic of invisibility (see above CFP – still in development).

The name I’m working with is ‘Dancing with Shadows: Exploring Invisibility.” 

I like the idea of shadows as related to invisibility for several reasons. Shadows are everywhere, they are rarely noticed until they need to be (e.g. to provide respite on a hot day or as an obscuring factor at some point); they are influenced by other factors but also influence their surroundings; they represent an evocative metaphor for operating in secret; and you can make neat things out of them if you know how to manipulate them well.

I don’t think shadows are the same as invisibility but they do have some metaphorical symmetry.

Bin Laden and Invisibility

Aside from the obvious idea of ‘working in the shadows,’ the recent events surrounding the death of Osama Bin Laden demonstrate two key aspects of invisibility about which I’ve written recently.

The first is that the compound in which he was hiding was both considerable in size and ‘in plain sight.’ Taken as ‘outstanding’ in it’s context, this compound should likely have been visible and seen. The funny thing is that there is much speculation about the level to which Bin Laden and his compound must have benefited from the ‘blind eye’ of the Pakistani government – which could indeed be true. Alternatively, it could be that a compound that necessarily stands out for its enormity and obvious opulence may have invited a wilful blindness … 

Come on, there are houses in your neighbourhood that you don’t question or mess with but around which you know to mind your behaviour. So too could this compound have been made invisible, in plain sight, in the way of the overt strategic invisibility that commanded a ‘look away’ invitation to those that passed by.

The second and very interesting way in which Bin Laden maintained his invisibility has to do with reports that he could not be found because he understood and observed the rule of eavesdropping – that if you don’t want to be heard, don’t say anything. Bin Laden, it is reported, didn’t use a phone of his own and had no traceable electronic signals enter his compound. In this day and age of sophisticated hearing technologies (anti-invisibility tools), he ‘dropped out’ of the grid while staying within its physical confines.

It’s funny how not having a facebook account reduces the number of hits you get on google … and Bin Laden fooled the most sophisticated skip tracers in the world for almost a decade by knowing this.

The man in the machine

I don’t know if people still use this phrase or not but I remember regularly having conversations with people about the gremlins who occupied their computers and somehow made things go awry from time to time. This reminds me, of course, of the classic Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times and the famous sequence where he is swallowed up by the machine and becomes integrated into the system of cogs and gears.

The idea of the gremlin screwing with our computers is an articulation of invisibility. Lev Manovich has described this as a purposeful mystification of technology whereby we are wilfully ignorant of how they work, willing, instead, to defer to others.

The notion that we are living in a digital age has long been an oxymoronic notion to me in much this way. I think that more people are engaged in digital activities, but that few of us remain ‘in the know’ about ‘the man in the machine.’ We are wilfully ignorant of how pressing the ‘like’ button works – could care less about the code behind it. 

Web 2.0 is an invisibility machinery if ever there was one. All we do is layer the illusion of ‘being digital’ overtop analog practices in the Web 2.0, facebook, youtube cultural space. Rarely do we enter into code en masse leaving the power not in the hands of the content contributors but the template makers. After all, who decided that all that is necessary could be said in 144 characters? Why not 145?

Later this year I’m expecting to present a paper at the McLuhan 100 Conference in Toronto. The topic of my paper is on the increasing invisibility of technology despite the increased proliferation of ‘digital rhetoric’ and ‘digital culture.’ 

This ad from Apple proves my point even further … the one I’ve been making for a few months now that Apple’s market share didn’t increase because they make better stuff but because they have a command of invisibility and have built their stuff to be invisible.

A long absence

It’s been some time since my last post. I bet you’re wondering where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to.

I suspect it’s easiest to summarize by saying that my university was on strike for a month during which time life was on hold … well as on hold as life can be. My mind was on hold at least as we walked very publicly encircling a campus building. I’m not sure that the strike really concluded, but it ended.

During this time my immediate future plans took a 180 degree turn. Where I’d planned on being next year fell apart, we reconfigured where we’ll be, moved, and bought a new house. Now we sit in limbo until we can move in. And by limbo, I mean literally in limbo as we are in a temporary place until the new house is available for us to move in.

As limbo goes, however, this place is lovely and I’m finally getting back on track so I hope to write more about invisibility soon.