Category Archives: Conceptual Introduction Digital Arts & Humanities

Lawrence Lessig – The Future of Ideas

This was written in 2001, and the author is considering the future of the world wide web and isn’t very happy about how it’s currently going. As he sees it, the web’s position as a self-regulated, democratic source of creative energy and opportunity is in danger of being undermined by market and political forces which will seek to control and exploit it. Those who prospered in the pre-internet times are suspicious and nervous of its potential, and those who embrace its liberating aspects haven’t yet stepped up to organise a defence of its positive qualities.

“Free” is a big buzzword here, and a discussion of what the word means in this context. What kind of things are free, what are not and what arguably should be. There has been a growing culture of lawmakers putting legislation in place to protect the copyright of artists’ work, be it reproductions of artworks or corporate logos in films, musicians and artists being paid for the use of their work etc. While this is a positive, the fact that a culture has emerged of opportunistic people taking this idea way too far has undermined the creative  processes of many projects and made them logistically very difficult to see to conclusion. It’s this playing out of the age old idea of socialist versus capitalist mentality that the author argues will continue to spell trouble for the internet as we go forward.

Seems like a good book, would like to see it to the end if I get time. Would be interesting to see what 15 years worth of hindsight has done to the arguments.

Lev Manovich – Data Stream, Database, Timeline

The invention of interactive graphical computing in the 1960s enabled displaying the same data in various ways on the computer display. The user experience of the data was no longer dependent on how it was stored (files, relational databases, object-oriented databases, etc.) (More precisely, we should say that the physical representation of data, its logical representation, and its user representation became separated.) In addition, the display could now be updated dynamically in real-time. This added more possibilities for displaying data. – This is an interesting point to consider today, that only a few decades ago we weren’t able to change how information was presented to us, but now it’s taken for granted that we can edit, resize, crop, search, refine and curate our information however we want. I suppose it gives us a feeling of greater involvement and ownership over the data we use.

Manovich talks about the idea of databases and how their use developed over time with the development of the World Wide Web and ever more sophisticated tablets / smartphones and the increasing importance of social media. Even though users could organise their viewing experience how they wished, and the information websites contained was updated periodically, the experience was still a collection of largely static icons and hyperlinks.  Now, we experience much of our information through “data streams”, where the info constantly comes at us in a single column, newer items pushing out the old, – The most important event is always the one that is about to appear next because it heightens the experience of the “data present.”  This is interesting from a psychological point of view, since it’ll keep the reader permanently compelled to connect with his data streams as often as possible. It would seem to me to be almost akin to an addictive form of behaviour.

M likens this experience to the concept of the flaneur, who would wander around the environment of his choice, stopping where he pleases to take everything in and observe. By deciding where to be and when, he can control how much stimuli and information he’ll receive. We do this on social networking by deciding which people and groups to follow, how often to check in etc.

M refers to an installation installation, Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin (2002) as an artwork which has attempted to deal with this phemonenon.

This is the museum’s blurb for the exhibit – The installation Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin analyzes all the text—typed just moments before—by tens of thousands of people in Internet chat rooms around the world. It presents them as six different “movements,” combining musical tones, sound effects, synthesized voice, and scrolling text.


The YouTube clip on this is interesting; from the blurb I was expecting a sort of cacophonous, overwhelming din, but the effect of the piece is strangely soothing and meditative. The wall of displays is arranged in an arc around the viewer, which I imagine would give a real feeling of encapsulation, maybe even the comforting sort. However, the viewer is free to walk behind and outside of the installation area too, much like the choice we have to get out of the data stream If we wish.

All of the audio snippets of the chatroom begin with “I am”, presumably from many different individuals, but the synthesised voice speaking all the lines homogenises the contributors, putting them on all the same level, regardless of their location, circumstances or emotional states. This actually gives us cause to really consider the anonymous, faceless people involved, and wonder who they might be, and why they’re there.  An unexpectedly poignant piece of work.

What’s next: The Radical, Unrealised Potential of Digital Humanities

Miriam Posner from her talk at Keystone Digital Humanities Conference in Pennsylvania, 2015

How might the Digital Humanities crirically investigate structures of power like race and gender?

we’re asked to consider what other forms of visualisation there might be for maps for example. Google Maps might seem to be novel even now with the level of detail and complexity, but is still a representation of a spherical surface on a 2d plane, a map in the tradition of empire builders of the past. The example is given of Aboriginal bark paintings, one is of a crocodile but on it is written the names of different types of land, so can be considered a map of a very different kind.

“The Changing face of America” was a grid of faces which when you clicked on an individual person would display detailed info on the person’s ethnicity and background, far more detailed than a simple census description of “black” or “white”. Because of the power structures of race and gender which we have, data gets flattened into over-simplified categories and we need types of visualisations which challenge that.

An examination is then made of several projects which have been challenging these old modes of data presentation.