It is the year 2029.. Los Angeles is a ruined post-apocalyptic wasteland – a scene of annihilation and devastation, where machines rule the world, led by a computer network called Skynet…

 

Flash back to present day and semester is wrapping up at a little place called UNSW. We were asked to imagine where we will be and what the world will be like in 5 or 10 years time.

In 10 years time it will be 2024. Marty and Dr Brown have come and gone. Seth Sentry died in a tragic hoverboard incident a few years back. Someone finally shot Tony Abbott. You know, the usual.

In all seriousness though, the role of media in the future concerns me a little. The steady decline of human civilisation at the hand of media and pop culture idols is troubling enough, without the added fact that we’re heading head-on towards the devastating effects of global warming (and doing nothing about it – cheers Tony) and apparently a society that doesn’t even pay attention when someone invades someone else (sorry Crimea).

I’m going to try my best not to turn this into a political rant. Bare with me.

On a personal level, I’m going to use media to help combat this depressing outlook. Though media is often misused or abused, people forget the power that it holds. With modern media you can reach huge audiences very quickly, unifying or segregating communities. The majority of protests happening today in Australia are publicised and circulated using the internet and social media. Never before in history have humans had such easy access to a platform that demands their voices be heard. It’s incredibly frustrating that most people don’t even realise how much power they hold in their hand or on their lap.

I refuse to be silent and I refuse to sit back and watch the world burn. Media is my (and your) most important tool in stopping that from happening.

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Magical Data Collection

I recently booked a holiday with my friend to Disneyworld in Florida. Putting aside how ridiculously excited we are, one aspect of our trip definitely got me thinking.

 

Magicbands. 

 

From the Disneyworld website:

“MagicBands and cards are secure all-in-one devices that allow you to effortlessly access the plans and vacation choices that you’ve made with My Disney Experience.

MagicBands are colorful, waterproof wristbands—resembling a watch or bracelet—that you can quickly and easily touch to a sensor called a touch point. Cards work in a similar fashion, but physically resemble a plastic credit card or driver’s license. Both MagicBands and cards allow you to travel lighter throughout your vacation.

You can use your card or MagicBand to:

  • Unlock the door of your Disney Resort hotel room.
  • Enter theme and water parks (with valid admission).
  • Check in at FastPass+ entrances.
  • Connect Disney PhotoPass images to your account.
  • Charge food and merchandise purchases to your Disney Resort hotel room (only available during your hotel stay).”

– Source: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/my-disney-experience/bands-cards/

Guests can customise their Magicband by selecting their preferred colour and getting their name printed on the inside of the band.

My friend and I got way too excited when we were selected to received the Magicbands, as when we booked they were still being trialled. Having a waterproof personalised wristband that replaces everything from our room keys to our wallets sounds pretty darned convenient!

In our readings and lecture this week we’ve been exploring what David Bollier (2013) calls the “internet of things”. He says that sensor-readable RFID tags in objects “make the cityscape more digitally legible”. Invading the ambient commons, i.e. the areas of the built environment that we take for granted (Bollier 2013), is all too easy when every person in the huge theme park is carrying around their own integrated electronic ID that can be tracked.

Along with the Magicbands, guests are encouraged to download an app called “My Disneyworld Experience”. Benjamin Bratton (2013) argues in his blog post ‘On Apps and Elementary Forms of Interfacial Life: Object, Image and Superimposition’ that an app is an interface we carry in our hands, that is to say, a ubiquitous form of computing. He says that “the app turns the device into modulation of the hand” (Bratton 2013).

The Disneyworld app allows users to not only link but make every booking they could possible need when staying at or visiting Disneyworld, from resort bookings to dinner reservations (up to 6 months in advance!). It enables people to set up ‘FastPass’ bookings – which essentially allows you to digitally stand in a queue for a ride. This is a perfect example of what Bollier means when he says that the “democratisation of smartphones and other digital technologies have given commoners their own tool for reclaiming the ambient commons to suit their needs” (Bollier 2013).

While Disneyworld is inevitably gathering valuable information about the habits and movements of their customers, the customer also benefits from the digital integration because their experience is much easier to plan and manage from the palm of their hand. The app even allows you to see what the current wait times for every ride are. My holiday is still over two months, away yet we’ve made various dinner reservations and other bookings. Has the technological invasion of the ambient common destroyed any sense of spontaneity? Definitely. Do I particularly mind if it means my holiday is a smooth and magical experience? Not at all.

 

References

Bollier, David (2013) ‘How Will We Reclaim and Shape the Ambient Commons?’, David Bollier: news and perspectives on the commons, July 16, http://bollier.org/blog/how-will-we-reclaim-and-shape-ambient-commons

Bratton, Benjamin (2013) ‘On Apps and Elementary Forms of Interfacial Life: Object, Image, Superimposition’, Bratton.info, December, http://www.bratton.info/projects/texts/on-apps-and-elementary-forms-of-interfacial-life/

 

 

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To adapt or dictate?

The readings for this week covered a variety of issues surrounding the key theme  – ‘The Fate of the State’. To elaborate, this means looking at the ways that large traditional institutions have, or have failed to, adapt to new media.

Initially I was going to write about the concept of ‘sousveillance’ versus surveillance. The difference between the two is quite elegantly depicted in this little drawing I found:

In summary, surveillance is the veillance of the authority, whereas sousveillance is the veillance of the plurality (Sousveillance, Wikipedia 2014). Contemplating the effect of the surge in sousveillance (GoPros, etc) lead me to remember the case of Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning at the time of her conviction).

American Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Elizabeth Manning was sentence to 35 years gaol in August of 2013 on charges of espionage and aiding the enemy in the Iraq war. She is responsible for one of the biggest leaks of classified government information in history, which brought WikiLeaks into the spotlight.

One of the pieces of ‘classified information’ which Manning released was a 38-minute-long video taken by a US Army helicopter explicitly showing what has been titled ‘Collateral Murder’. The video can be seen below. Viewer discretion is advised.

Manning was held in an army base in Virginia between July 2010 and April 2011. The treatment she received there has not been officially confirmed, though it can be assumed it wasn’t a pleasant stay. Reports of torture and horrific conditions quickly surfaced internationally and Manning was eventually moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to await trial.

The extreme reaction of the US government is a prime example of an institution not adapting to new media effectively. WikiLeaks formed because people want, and some would argue need, to know what these huge institutions are doing, especially when it is a government supposedly representing the views of its people.

The outrage that the video Collateral Murder was met with should be enough of an indication that this is information that people want to know about, because they (largely) disagree with what their government is condoning in it. Women and children are gunned down in Iraq by soldiers who are there under the pretence that they are helping the Iraqi people.

The modern-day witch hunt that surrounded (surrounds?) WikiLeaks only drew attention to the fact that this was not something the US Government wanted people to see. With modern forms of media such as the internet, it is impossible to simply say “no, you’re not allowed to see that” and expect people to abide by your ruling, especially when it is about something as serious as killing innocent people in the name of your country.

The handling of the situation by the US government shows not only a failure to adapt to new media, but also a naivety and arrogance that they expect cutting off the head (figuratively or literally) will allow them to simply sweep it under the rug. Torturing (allegedly) modern day whistleblowers who share such information only reflects negatively on the institution or State itself and generates distrust – what else are they hiding?

 

Wikipedia (2014) Chelsea Manning, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelsea_Manning

Wikipedia (2014) Edward Snowden, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden

Wikipedia (2014) Sousveillance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sousveillance

Youtube (2012) Original WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yo22QlP6NgQ

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AR (augmented reality) means your rose-colored glasses aren’t just a metaphor — you’ll only encounter the world you want, the people you want. – Havens, 2013

As a person who doesn’t relish in human interaction, this seems like a rather attractive scenario. Let’s face it, people suck. Aside from helping you to avoid the endless supply of irritations involved in everyday human interaction, Lauren Drell points out in her article 7 Ways Augmented Reality Will Improve Your Life that there are plenty of other potentially life-changing applications that augmented reality technology can and is being used for (2012, http://mashable.com/2012/12/19/augmented-reality-city/).

One of Drell’s examples of the uses of augmented or virtual reality in everyday life is this Youtube video illustrating how Ikea have utilised the technology for marketing purposes. Ignore the Xzibit cameo at the start…

Basically Ikea have used the technology to turn a traditionally non-technical printed magazine into a device that your smartphone can actually scan and interact with to show more features. When you scan the page, the 3D model of the piece of furniture appears and you can interact with it on your phone. I find it really interesting the way technology has progressed to not simply trying to be different to traditional media like print media, as it may have been in the early stages of mainstream acceptance, but is actively trying to incorporate traditional media.

A few points we have been asked to consider when examining the readings for my course this week are: “If everything is going “virtual”, what does this mean? Is the virtual something new or was it there before? Are media creating new “virtual worlds”, or was the world already virtual, or both?

If you consider the Ikea example, your brain might just explode. Mine tried to, trust me. Let’s try and break it down;

“Is the virtual something new or was it there before?” – Technically, both? Maybe? When you look at pictures in a magazine, you can try to imagine what that something would look like in your house, as the smartphone app allows you to. The ‘virtual’ pieces of furniture are there in 2D on the page and in your imagination.

“Are media creating new ‘virtual worlds’, or was the world already virtual, or both?” – As Drell highlights, in 1962 a man named Morton Heilig patented what he called an “experience theatre”. Basically, he invented 3D cinema (2013, http://www.mortonheilig.com/InventorVR.html). He is known as the ‘Father of Virtual Reality’, thus suggesting that virtual worlds are not new. I for one had an issue separating the concept of virtual reality from imagination. People have had imaginations, presumably, since they developed the ability to think. To me the imagination is the ultimate in virtual reality technology – you can imagine whatever you like, whether it’s real or not and regardless of how many pixels a programmer has painstakingly attributed to it.

Answer: Both? Yes? Kind of, but not really? Virtual reality, to me, is media’s way of projecting the imagination into a digital field that can be shared much quicker and easier than trying to explain last night’s dream to someone.

 

Drell, Lauren (2012) ‘7 Ways Augmented Reality Will Improve Your Life’, Mashable, December 20, <http://mashable.com/2012/12/19/augmented-reality-city/>

Havens, John (2013) ‘The Impending Social Consequences of Augmented Reality’, Mashable, February 8, <http://mashable.com/2013/02/08/augmented-reality-future/>

MortonHeilig.com (2013) ‘Inventor In The Realm Of Virtual Reality’, http://www.mortonheilig.com/InventorVR.html

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Don’t Think, Just Do.

Part of our required readings/viewing for this week is the video I’ve linked. It’s called ‘Alan Kay on Learning’ and is definitely worth a look. It only goes for 10 minutes but it had enough of an effect on me to be the focal point of this weeks blog post.

In the video Alan Kay shows another video (video-ception!!) taken from Harry Reasoner’s 1975 show. The video is challenging a publication which suggested that anyone can learn to play tennis if they don’t really try to. You’re probably thinking what I was thinking at first – in a nutshell: “…what??”

The concept behind the theory is that if you distract your brain and make it focus on something menial or boring you will stay calm and as such perform better. As the video says, you need to “put the mind somewhere that it can stay calm”.

In the video, the researcher takes a group of people who have never played tennis before and tries to teach them. He then selects the worst athlete – Maude – and focuses on her. Maude is in her 50s and 40 pounds overweight, as they say in the video. She hasn’t even exercised in 20 years. Despite these factors, with just 20 minutes of teaching from the researcher, Maude does surprisingly well and manages to consistently hit the ball.

Speaking as someone who has about equivalent sporting ability as a dead cow, this really intrigued me. It challenges the concept of Embodied Cognition, which “holds that the nature of the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body” (Wikipedia 2014, Embodied Cognition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embodied_cognition). By focusing on the simple instructions given by the researcher, Maude’s mind is acting beyond the presupposed limitations of her body (as she isn’t athletically built and doesn’t have the muscle tone built up by experienced tennis players).
When I started considering the notion of the video I realised that despite my lack of sporting ability (or inclination), it’s very easy to find examples of it in everyday life. People tell you to take “deep breaths” when you’re nervous about something. Aside from the oxygen to your brain keeping you alive, it’s something for your mind to focus on that isn’t the task at hand. My first day at a new job I’ll be nervous and likely get a bit flustered. When I remind myself to take deep breaths everything is much easier because you calm down.

As Maude says in the video – “when you just stop thinking, the body seems to know what to do”.
The first step in learning to play tennis that the researcher teaches Maude is to watch the ball, and as it approaches to say (out loud) “bounce” (as it bounces) and “hit” (as she hits it). This is focusing Maude’s mind on one simple, repetitive and somewhat boring aspect of the sport. The rhythmic pattern no doubt adds to this. Similarly, when he is teacher her “a dance called the serve” (aka how to serve the ball), he tells her to hum a rhythm which coordinates with the action of serving. This not only distracts Maude but makes the motion more natural to her.
When I run I use the same principle. If I actually focus on the fact that I’m running I get tired quickly and my breath tends to be sporadic. Instead, I count in my head in time with the steps I’m taking: breathe in on “one, two” and out on “three, four”. Distracting my mind from what I’m actually doing kind of puts my body into autopilot, which is exactly what is happening in the video.

Right around here I should probably relate this to media and communication. At first I was quite daunted by the prospect, but when I relaxed and stopped thinking “I need to finish this blog!!” I found some examples.

Class presentations, for instance. Have you ever found that when you’re concentrating so hard on how you present yourself and what you say that you forget what you’re talking about? When I give a class presentation I know the topic inside and out. In a casual conversation I could probably ramble on about the topic for an hour but when I’m in front of the class my brain is too busy thinking “argh, did I use the technical term there?! Will I lose marks for that??” Simply breathing and thinking about the topic rather than the presentation lets it flow a lot better. This could be applied to a lot of communication contexts where there is a high need to impress the person or people you’re communicating with, such as job interviews and meetings.

On that note, I’ve distracted myself from the fact I’m probably going to be late for class that and rambled for probably far too long. Until next week, breathe!

 

References:

Alan Kay on Learning, Youtube Video (2008): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50L44hEtVos

Wikipedia (2014) Embodied Cognition, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embodied_cognition

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