Monthly Archives: June 2011

Remix culture as a re-claiming of the invisible past

Posted in response to an interesting question from a student about remix culture:

Very thought provoking questions. I think it’s helpful to keep the first part of your argument in mind – the interdependence of creation and use. To a certain extent everything that is ‘made’ is made with an intended purpose. What’s fascinating is how adding people to that mix can muddle the original purpose and, in the process, come up with an unexpected outcome.

That said, it’s important to also remember that everything is to some extent or another derivative – it all comes from somewhere and is layered on to our histories at every turn. Novelty is rarely truly ‘new’ but always a ‘re-imagining’ in light of shifting contexts.

Context is something that we haven’t really explored much, or at least enough, in this class but is a necessary thing to consider. Culture, it can be argued, is a context – a structure or set of rules for interpreting things. Contexts change and so then does the way we look at and use things. 

Now if we take a look at the examples you bring up about analog-like interfaces for digital interaction – moving away from joysticks and toward physical interfaces – I’ve been thinking about that myself. I find it interesting (and am writing about that elsewhere on my research blog) that we tend to forget that ‘digital technology’ was first intended to replace the analog but now is moving full speed toward replicating it. Web 3.0 is a movement toward ‘intuitive searching’ where your computer will need to learn what you mean rather than just what you ask – after all, computers are only as smart as the people who program them.

Remixing is an interesting thing to me insofar as it is not a new phenomenon but rather a re-birth of how we survived for centuries. When you watch an Antiques show you often hear about how surprising it is that a piece of furniture or art survived untouched when most of its brethren were stripped and used again for another purpose. Remixing was a way in which to ‘reuse’ long before recycling recognized that our society was moving too far toward consuming the new and discarding the old. Reuse was a way of life and remix culture, to my mind, is a way of returning to our roots of self-reflection and creative salvaging rather than always assuming that ‘new’ is ‘better’ or that ‘old’ is ‘useless.’

The relationship between seeing and invisibility

In a few weeks I’m going to be presenting a paper at the International Visual Sociology Association annual conference in Vancouver, BC. My paper will be a general discussion of the value of invisibility in visual research.

The main argument I’m going to make, and I’m putting it here as a placeholder to remind myself, is that invisibility is the context that gives shape to the visible. It is not the absence of the visible, but the ground upon which it depends – both within and beyond sight.

If photography captures a representation of the visible, the visible captures a representation of the invisible. Each is bounded by rules and is governed by relational considerations and neither can work without its parent figure – photography > visibility; visibility > invisibility. It sounded clearer when I was half asleep last night and will be much more polished by the time I’m ready to present, promise. What the visible is to photography, invisibility is to the visible.

Into the (i)Cloud

Further to my earlier post on the mystification of technology as playing in the realm of invisibility, I’d like to consider cloud computing.

One of the main things about computers is that, when networked, we think of them as living inside our homes and opening doors to the outside world. Rarely to we consider how these doors are open – though if you have a PC and run anti-virus software, you probably think a lot more than you’d like about what they let in. 

At the same time, the hardware that plays with and stores much of what we do lives in the little boxes that we take around with us or that sit on/under our desks. But then there’s the cloud.

Cloud computing is not a new idea but is an interesting one that works on a distributed storage model. We don’t need to hold on to everything in one place, particularly if we have many places in which we’d like to access our things. The cloud, of all computing, is a space of invisibility if ever there was one.

With the push to cloud computing we are further entrenching the invisibility of (computing) technology by allowing our (digital) lives to be lived and stored outside of our immediate possession. The a-materiality of it all is a bending of invisibility to an extent that needs much further examination …. maybe by me?