Monday, January 25, 2010

Ulysses Pausing for a Photo-Op : Open Thread

Several conversations, events, and films I've enjoyed over the past few days wove their way through the narrative of my dream last night.

I was with some friends on a hilltop in the countryside (probably the Catskills), enjoying a day at the local farmers' market (Bambino and I had just watched Food Inc, and we're feeling the need to be more choosy about what we eat). From my vantage point I could see a park below with people picnicking and playing sports (we watched the Jets lose and the Saints win yesterday) and people strolling along through the lanes of a village off to the side. Further away on another hilltop the people were ants and the village buildings mostly indistinguishable. It was a lovely day in the country, even though it was mostly overcast.

Then someone in the farmer's market gasped and pointed to the sky. I looked up and saw what looked to be a huge jet fighter emerging through the clouds. Then it rose back up out of sight again. "What was that?" everyone was mumbling? Some new secret aircraft, I wondered? (I had watched Trevor Paglen's fascinating and horrifying "Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World" lecture the other day).

But then the clouds parted way again and the flying machine revealed itself to be much, much larger than an experimental jet fighter. In fact, in the way that spaceships do in "Star Wars" films (or just about any space film now), the underbelly of this craft seemed an endless array of variations on the architecture-meets-technology theme haphazardly welded together, and it went on and on and on. It would have had to have been the size of New Jersey, I'd say.

The folks in the farmers market were frozen in fear at this point. I too wasn't at all sure what to do. My first thought was to recall the line in District 9 which went, more or less, that all of human history will be very different from this point on. But then on the distant hillside there was a mass of explosions. From our vantage point it wasn't clear whether the spaceship was dropping bombs or shooting lazor beams, or the US Military on the ground was shooting rockets up to destroy the ship (and what? have it crash and wipe out half of upper New York State), or there was simply some fireworks celebration welcoming the new visitors (I had spied Peter
Schjeldahl walking through Chelsea the other day). It could have any been any of them (thanks Joy G.).

All at once, though, the folks throughout the market and in the park and village below had the wherewithal to take out their cell phones and begin snapping photos. I too took my iPhone out and fumbled to figure out how to make it capture video (I don't actually have the version that does that, but in my dream I had upgraded). A man next to me chided me, though:

"This is your response to an alien attack on the earth?" he asked. "You're shooting a YouTube account?"

"No," I replied in my panic. "This is just how I'm dealing with this."

(I had had a studio visit with an artist who frequently places herself in harm's way to get the video or photography she takes, and we had discussed how the camera serves to distance you irrationally from the event just on the other side of the lens. I noted how when I first witnessed the slaughter of a sheep in Kyrgyzstan, taking pictures was the only way I hadn't lost my lunch.)

A little over a year ago I shared some thoughts about how all of humankind with access to the Internet is voluntarily tagging the most massive amount of data ever recorded (probably, unaware, in the service of our forthcoming A.I. overlord, but that's another thread). I'm now beginning to think that we're actually becoming an army of documentarians. Very few events in the course of contemporary human history are not being recorded in pixels or video.

A fellow blogger and commenter here stopped in the gallery the other day and our conversation got around to the new 2010 Annual Question on the Edge: "How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?"

Many of the answers seem mundane. ("Is Google Making Us Stupid" etc.). To my mind, and to be explored a bit more in-depth in another post, the Internet is changing several of the basic metaphors of human interaction, human desire, and human communication. In doing so, the Internet is systematically redefining what it means to be human. Even people without computers can't help but be affected by it. All of which made me think the Edge was asking the wrong question. It's not how the Internet is changing the way we think...but rather how the Internet is changing the way we act.

What will those farmers' market folks do with their camera photos and videos? Upload them to their Facebook pages, mostly. But why was their first impulse to record what was going on? Because it was easy now, sure, but also because our participation in any event, no matter how monumental, seems to only be complete after we've shared it and let others who were not there respond to how we handled it. This may not be that different from the way townsfolk gathered round to hear the adventures of how their prodigal son had escaped the trials and tribulations of his odyssey, but Ulysses never stopped fighting some monster to have his portrait sketched next to it. Has something shifted? Again, I think there's a metaphorical shift in what we think it means to live that's going on here. I'll try and explore that more in subsequent posts...but for now, consider this an open thread on how the Internet is changing the way we act.

UPDATE: Awesome analysis of, if not the metaphors, per se, the consequences of the rigidity of the Internet in this article on Little Green Footballs...the only blog in the political sphere (and I spent tons of time in very right-wing corners) which I found totally intolerable. The venom spewed there was so off the charts it made most self-identified hate groups seem warm and fuzzy by comparison. [via Sully]

Labels: internet, social networks


Blogger Kathy Hodge said...

I think we naturally like to document what we see because humans seem to have a need to sort and organize what's confusing, or bigger than themselves, in order to understand it. So to capture an event on video puts it into a format where we can feel ownership of it. The same has been done for centuries in oil paint!

1/25/2010 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I own less and less. I now purchase access. The gate keeper is the technology platform and not so much the price point. Schools of thought are being replaced with platforms - Linux, Windows, MacIntosh ...
I don't outgrow things anymore, the technology I have and have mastered is now redundant, the latest version requires that everything else move in step with it, I play keep up and become a follower instead of seeking randomly, I hyperlink to related data and presume the patterns in the data are out there instead of revealed through oneself. All becomes transient replaced continually with the new, except the cookies and detritus of the past that marketers use to define my future access and redirect my interests.
My focus becomes access instead of assimilation and understanding.
Everything becomes malleable, prone to being replaced restated and regurgitated.

I actually like the internet in some ways. Interestingly there is a theory that regardless of how much we offload "responsibility" to what ever technology, the level of responsibility in the system remains constant. You have either memorized your phone number or offloaded that responsibility to the white pages, a little back book, or your latest techno-gizmo. That the more sophisticated technology becomes, the more rigid and conformist its users are required to act to use it.

It's any technology that circumscribes how you interact with the world, and so determines how you act in the world amd hence limits how you know of the world, and so sets blinders on your paradigms of the world. We walk within the digital realm, it no longer is delimited by a box.

1/25/2010 01:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, your gallery was the setting of a dream I had last night though mine wasn't nearly as vivid as yours. Here's the bit I remember: It was dark, but not pitch black, and artists were lying on the floor. One by one they'd speak out in the darkness to whoever would listen. It felt like a childhood slumber party. It was safe to talk.


1/25/2010 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Fabulous comment, Gam!

My focus becomes access instead of assimilation and understanding.
Everything becomes malleable, prone to being replaced restated and regurgitated.

Access is one of the central metaphors. It always has been important, but not as nakedly as it is now. It used to be dressed up in manners and "interests" but it's becoming something we seek for its own sake.

1/25/2010 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Cathy, that's hysterical...and more than a little prescient. The next show at the gallery will be more or less the realization of your dream.

1/25/2010 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Believe it or not, I dreamed last night that I was having a dream. In the dream I dreamed I was having, I was walking along a busy street, naked from the waist down. Then I said to myself, "Hey, this is my dream. Whatever I want to happen, can happen." Immediately, I had a pair of shorts on.

Perhaps, if I was child of today's world, my subconscious would have produced a cell phone instead - that I could have flipped open to cover my parts.

I often get the feeling that other people use cell phones and laptops as fig leaves. To make them appear less vulnerable in public.

1/25/2010 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

The nature of privacy has certainly been changed radically by the internet. I can find out amazing amounts of stuff about strangers. That wasn't possible before without expending considerable money.

I'd also like to think that regionalism/nationalism will crumble under a new kind of kinship - one of shared interests and ideas.

1/25/2010 02:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you wrote about your dream or I would never have brought up mine. Funny, if your gallery existed for me as physically verified space, I don't think I could have had it. I hope to get to NY in March or April to visit my daughter, maybe your next show will be up then? Hope so.


1/25/2010 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

Totally agree with the privacy issue, not only can I find out how much you paid for your house, I can find a satellite image of it and your neighbors....not that I'm looking ;)

plus as a photographer I have completely changed my views on photography due to the internet. My work from not that long ago in school (10 years) is far different in scope because of the availability of sites like Flickr and their ability to flood peoples conscious with pictures.

1/25/2010 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Mery Lynn, what we can find out about each other is nothing compared to what businesses and governments can find out about us - in real time. Because of the speed and convenience that both the internet and data banks make possible.

Used to be you could move to another town, just thirty miles away, and start your life over with a clean slate. You didn't even have to change your name. Can we even imagine such a world now? (I remember it well.)

The internet has changed the way we live insofar as we're always looking over our shoulders - to see what it is about our past that is going to mess up our lives today.

Our past, which should be largely private, is now permanently public and accessible - in detail. And just as there can be no privacy without freedom, there can be no freedom without privacy.

I don't think the trade for what we've gained - individually, from the internet - has been worth it.

1/25/2010 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

I wonder if the witch hunts of Clinton, Tiger Woods et al aren't also a function of this growing lack of privacy. Extramarital affairs aren't new but they are no longer easily hidden.

Traffic tickets are another example. You can't hide from them by moving. Maybe at some point delinquent child support payments will also be a thing of the past. The world has become very small.

1/25/2010 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger Delilah said...

Where does art stop and I phone beging? Loved the blog

1/26/2010 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

I've been saying for years that the next tech horizon will be providing a state of invisibility to web. What can and can't be accessed. I'll bet the Chinese are working on it now.

Seems I dream about YouTube every night, that and zipthwung.

1/26/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today you can live in any remote place and still feel like you're
in the middle of LA or New york by reading the right blogs or Twitter

I thought that was marvellous until I realized that made me
become a total hermit. Taoist philosophy has convinced me recently that one needs contact with the living to remain healthy. And my 5 cats simply won't be enough. So internet
has changed in me that I have to make a conscious effort to meet real living people.


PS: I dream sometimes of walking in a gallery alley, in Chelsea or elsewhere, and it's just a normal
visit, where I love to apprehend what others do, and than I wake up and think "oh my god, none of
these exhibits exist!". I had of course completely imagined them. I write down the best ones but, though I'd love to replicate some, I couldn't do it alone. It's easy to dream but very hard to work.

1/28/2010 10:20:00 PM  
Anonymous lisa said...

i had a dream the other night it was about photography, probably inspired by my getting a flikr site. The dream was a passionate debate about what photography was and what it is becoming. it's always been a way to document, and to hold our memories, it became a respected art form over time. the debate in my dream was focused on how the democratizing of photography and how anybody with an i-phone and photoshop can create art and put it out there. I have very mixed feelings about this even as i put my own stuff out there. the world is just clamoring with creativity and the internet gives us a digital wall to draw on. Yes Cedric, the digital world allows hermits to be hermits
and probably creates more hermits. thats why i shut down my facebook account.

1/30/2010 11:38:00 PM  

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