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Small Tech

Small Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools

Volume: 22
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Small Tech
    Book Description:

    Experts examine the ways digital tools affect social and cultural experience. Contributors: Wendy Warren Austin, Jim Bizzocchi, Collin Gifford Brooke, Paul Cesarini, Veronique Chance, Johanna Drucker, Jenny Edbauer, Robert A. Emmons Jr., Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Richard Kahn, Douglas Kellner, Karla Saari Kitalong, Steve Mann, Lev Manovich, Adrian Miles, Jason Nolan, Julian Oliver, Mark Paterson, Isabel Pedersen, Michael Pennell, Joanna Castner Post, Teri Rueb, James J. Sosnoski, Lance Strate, Jason Swarts, Barry Wellman, Sean D. Williams, Jeremy Yuille.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5385-0
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: On Small Tech and Complex Ecologies
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
    Byron Hawk and David M. Rieder

    In the past ten years, scholars across various disciplines have been thinking about the impact of new media on various social and aesthetic sites of engagement. In his introduction toThe New Media Reader, “New Media from Borges to HTML,” Lev Manovich makes the distinction between two paths of research that he labels cyberculture and new media. Writers investigating cyberculture examine various social phenomena related to the Internet and other forms of networked communication. Issues involving online community, online gaming, identity, gender, ethnicity, and online ethnography are common in this field. New media researchers, on the other hand, focus on...

  5. Traditional Software in New Ecologies

    • 1 Data Visualization as New Abstraction and as Anti-Sublime
      (pp. 3-9)
      Lev Manovich

      Along with a graphical user interface, a database, navigable space, and simulation,dynamic data visualizationis one of the genuinely new cultural forms enabled by computing. Of course, the fans of Edward Tufte will recall that it is possible to find examples of graphical representation of quantitative data already in the eighteenth century, but the use of the computer medium turns such representations from the exception into the norm. It also makes possible a variety of new visualization techniques and uses for visualization. With computers we can visualize much larger data sets; create dynamic (i.e., animated and interactive) visualizations; feed...

    • 2 Softvideography: Digital Video as Postliterate Practice
      (pp. 10-21)
      Adrian Miles

      I open the box to unveil my new home computer. It might be portable, it might not, but if I’m at all interested in making my new purchase the “digital hub” of my new “digital lifestyle,” then my computer probably has several USB ports, an IEEE 1394 (also known as FireWire or iLink) port, DVD burner, and if I went for all the options, 802.11b or 802.11g wi-fi and Bluetooth. What this means, outside of the lifestyle advertising that accompanies such hardware, is that it is now technically trivial for me to connect my IEEE 1394–enabled domestic video camera...

    • 3 Technopolitics, Blogs, and Emergent Media Ecologies: A Critical/Reconstructive Approach
      (pp. 22-37)
      Richard Kahn and Douglas Kellner

      Since the blossoming of hypertext and the the Internet from the early 1990s, the emergence of a utopian rhetoric of cyberdemocracy and personal liberation has accompanied the growth of the new online communities that formed the nascent World Wide Web. While the initial cyberoptimism of many ideologues and theorists of the “virtual community” (Rheingold, “The Virtual Community”; Barlow; Gates; Kelly) now seems partisan and dated, debates continue to rage over the nature, effects, and possibilities of the Internet and technopolitics.¹ Some claim that the Internet’s role, as the primary engine driving the ecological arrangement of today’s new media, is simply...

    • 4 Remembering Dinosaurs: Toward an Archaeological Understanding of Digital Photo Manipulation
      (pp. 38-47)
      Karla Saari Kitalong

      With this description of artist Julieanne Kost’s Photoshop composition, Christine A. Finn makes an intriguing connection between the art of digital photo manipulation and the science of archaeology. Finn is not the first to develop an archaeological metaphor for a nonarchaeological kind of activity; Sigmund Freud made a similar comparison between the work of the archaeologist and that of the psychotherapist, as this chapter illustrates. And Michel Foucault’s archaeological strategy for historical interpretation has emerged as a method of understanding culture, power, and knowledge. Both metaphors capitalize on layered representations that characterize archaeology’s method for understanding space and time.


    • 5 Cut, Copy, and Paste
      (pp. 48-56)
      Lance Strate

      For almost all of the past three million years, “high tech” took the form of tool kits consisting of sharpened pieces of stone (see, for example, Leaky and Lewin). These tool kits included three types of stone knives: one for skinning and otherwise preparing meat, another for working with vegetables and fruits, and a third used to create other tools out of wood and bone. The technique of chipping stones in order to create a sharp cutting edge might have been developed by the australopithecines, but it was regularly used byHomo habilisand subsequent members of our genus such...

    • 6 Dreamweaver and the Procession of Simulations: What You See Is Not Why You Get What You Get
      (pp. 57-68)
      Sean D. Williams

      What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) software enacts a metaphor of simulation deeply rooted in American culture: we assume as Americans that “seeing is believing,” that if we can only lay our eyes on an object or situation, our sight will penetrate to the true essence of the thing. Paradoxically, the metaphor of WYSIWYG software also reproduces a trait that informs American culture: we actively suspend our disbelief of what we see in order to make our lives easier. We know that vision frequently deceives us, yet because it’s easier or more entertaining for us to simply ignore what we know, we consciously perpetuate...

    • 7 Revisiting the Matter and Manner of Linking in New Media
      (pp. 69-79)
      Collin Gifford Brooke

      Late in his career, Kenneth Burke, whose dramatistic pentad remains a staple of contemporary rhetorical and communications theories, remarked that one of his regrets was that he had not made his pentad a hexad. Burke explained that he would have added the term “attitude” (or “manner”) to the five that most rhetoric students know by heart (i.e., agent, agency, act, scene, and purpose). Attitude, Burke reasoned, would lend additional nuance to the concept of agency, the term in the pentad that answers the question of how. In the context of a rhetorical theory (such as Burke’s) that places a heavy...

    • 8 ScriptedWriting() {Exploring Generative Dimensions of Writing in Flash ActionScript
      (pp. 80-92)
      David M. Rieder

      At what point, and with what disciplinary values in mind, should we distinguish (natural language) text from (artificial) code? In the epigraph, echoing a small but growing number of other commentators across the humanities, Jim Andrews observes that the line between the two linguistic species is variable. Nonetheless, there is an inertial tendency in the humanities that continues to reinforce the value of linear or alphabetic writing over the hybrid “postalphabetisms” of programmed code writing. In other words, humanities scholarship is disposed to focus on phonetic thought and communication rather than decentering this species of communication for a richer approach...

  6. Small Tech and Cultural Contexts

    • Overhearing: The Intimate Life of Cell Phones
      (pp. 95-97)
      Jenny Edbauer Rice

      The scene is nearly always the same. A man in a jumpsuit walks around with his cell phone, checking reception hotspots in every corner of the earth. He asks his invisible caller, “Can you hear menow?” He pauses for the silent answer and then smiles. “Good.” People around him catch his eye and hold up two fingers in an ambiguous peace sign cum victory sign cumVfor Verizon. This scene makes the question seem strangely ambiguous: to whom exactly is he posing his question? It is not only the invisible interlocutor who hears the Verizon man. His bystanders...

    • I Am a DJ, I Am What I Say: The Rise of Podcasting
      (pp. 98-100)
      Paul Cesarini

      Why should we care about the iPod? It is just another MP3 player, another consumer electronics gadget designed to siphon wallets dry while users attempt to bask in its techno-utopian glow. The iPod wasn’t the first such player, either, and it certainly won’t be the last. It is expensive. It lacks features found in competing devices. It relies on a proprietary digital rights management (DRM) technology for commercial audio content, making it little more than an island in a sea of Windowsbased products and services. There’s really not much to the iPod, is there? The answer is both yes and...

    • Walking with Texts: Using PDAs to Manage Textual Information
      (pp. 101-103)
      Jason Swarts

      All manner of texts are built from visual, verbal, and multimedia representations of organizational and individual knowledge. These texts help form an organization’s public face, and they are tools for managing work activity. Texts and the technologies that support their creation and distribution have developed as artifacts of systematic management (Yates). Obvious examples are texts like standard operating procedures, but texts like inspection reports and patient histories also contain conventional representations of information that support increasingly standardized work practices. Supporting technologies like typewriters and photocopiers make these texts easier to produce and distribute within an organization. The personal digital assistant...

    • Text Messaging: Rhetoric in a New Keypad
      (pp. 104-106)
      Wendy Warren Austin

      Our creativity surges when opportunities for maintaining human contact present themselves. Thus, when cell phone companies began offering text messaging services to customers, intending mainly to help businesses, cell phone users co-opted the feature for themselves. Today, more than one in four Americans use text messaging (Lenhart and Shiu), an amazing example, as Huatong Sun points out, of the public’s unexpected adaptation of a technological device for purposes other than those originally intended.

      Why is text messaging becoming so popular? It’s a silent, convenient, and affordable way to communicate with others. It’s not a very simple way to write, however....

    • Beyond Napster: Peer-to-Peer Technology and Network Culture
      (pp. 107-109)
      Michael Pennell

      Although most widely recognized in the form of Napster or other music and media based file-exchange programs, peer-to-peer (P2P) technology is much more than a way for college students to avoid paying for music. It is distributed computing, allowing users to interface with not just a single computer or server but a constantly changing network, or ecology, of computers, servers, and small technologies. As Cory Doctorow claims, P2P may simply be “unstoppable,” despite significant attempts to stop it by organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and academic institutions. At the very least, P2P networking is definitely...

    • Communication Breakdown: The Postmodern Space of Google
      (pp. 110-115)
      Johndan Johnson-Eilola

      The information age promised us a lot of things; indeed, it seemed to promise us everything. Ironically, the commodification of information means that information, in itself, is worth very little. We should not be surprised. Snake oil and patent medicines always held out illusory promises. In the original film adaptation Roald Dahl’s novelWilly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie’s Golden Ticket (Figure 1) promises the moon in a golden day but only provides an opening, an opportunity, “a golden chance.” The Golden Ticket seemed like an answer, but it wasn’t: it was merely an opening, a way in. Getting...

    • Let There Be Light in the Digital Darkroom: Digital Ecologies and the New Photography
      (pp. 116-118)
      Robert A. Emmons Jr.

      The postphotographic era, initiated by the invention of the digital photographic process, establishes new social, cultural, and ecological practices affecting the viewer, the artifact, and the creator, ultimately resulting in a new period of artistic expression. The postphotographic era is a result of advancement. Humans exist in an environment of “instants.” “Now” refers not to an approximate figure defining a general period of time but to an exact moment, second, or instant. Technological progress is a means to an instant: instant coffee, instant information, instant download, instant playback, instant photography. “Instant” technology changes human movement and interactivity. “Instant” culture has...

    • “A Demonstration of Practice”: The Real Presence of Digital Video
      (pp. 119-123)
      Veronique Chance

      As digital technologies are made more accessible and available to the artist and as the proliferation of (media) images through the use of such technologies increasingly define our culture, art practices are being redefined, and our notions of and relationship to the visual are being reexamined. Through the use of digital technologies such as the Internet, digital video cameras, and data projectors, our relationship to visuality and to vision itself is being questioned. These visual technologies are allowing artists to refine and redefine our relationships to the visual, to challenge and alter our perceptions of reality, and to examine our...

    • Buffering Bergson: Matter and Memory in 3D Games
      (pp. 124-128)
      Julian Oliver

      Henri Bergson would have liked 3D computer games, or at least the way they are made. Naturally, this may seem unusual, since the field of 3D graphics is itself the grandchild of Euclid’sElements, a geometric construction of the universe as a mesh of points connected by measurable lines (Mueller). However, contemporary 3D games deploy a range of techniques in their presentation that differ greatly from the alienable universe as it is mathematically observed. At the center of the 3D game there lives a conspicuous, albeit unlikely echo of Bergson’s (sometimes less than popular) ideas.

      Bergson believed in a kind...

    • Shifting Subjects in Locative Media
      (pp. 129-134)
      Teri Rueb

      A new area of narrative experimentation has emerged with the proliferation of mobile communications technology. The convergence of personal digital assistants (PDAs), pocket PCs, mobile phones, and portable music and video players with cellular, Wi-Fi, global positioning systems (GPS), and Bluetooth capabilities allows media content to be delivered at specific geographic locations, or in response to movement or relative proximity. Narrative works designed for delivery via such “locative media” seek to tell stories that unfold in real space. These works draw on dramatic, literary, cinematic, and spatial design conventions that have shaped the structure of narrative experience across cultures since...

  7. Future Technologies and Ambient Environments

    • 9 Virtual Reality as a Teaching Tool: Learning by Configuring
      (pp. 137-149)
      James J. Sosnoski

      If you have read St. Clair Drake and Horace H. Cayton’sBlack Metropolis, perhaps the most famous account of an African American urban neighborhood ever written, you know what happened over the years to Bronzeville in Chicago. Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, African Americans migrated from the South in large numbers to seek employment in northern cities. Many came to Chicago attracted by the accounts of life there in theDefender, a widely circulated African American newspaper. In the ’20s and ’30s, Bronzeville was an entertainment district as famous and popular as Harlem in New York. But...

    • 10 Digital Provocations and Applied Aesthetics: Projects in Speculative Computing
      (pp. 150-165)
      Johanna Drucker

      TheSpeculative Computing Labwas founded in 2000 with the goal of creating projects that would address what we saw as a serious crisis in the humanities. Briefly stated, that crisis is the striking disconnect between the culture of media in which students are immersed in their daily lives and the traditional approach to knowledge production and preservation that is at the heart of the classroom environment at every level of education. How will the basic mission of the humanities—to create and preserve culture—survive if the arenas that have traditionally maintained the viability of humanist values are rendered...

    • 11 Dehumanization, Rhetoric, and the Design of Wearable Augmented Reality Interfaces
      (pp. 166-178)
      Isabel Pedersen

      Wearable computers (“wearables”) are computers that people attach to their bodies in order to augment their personal experiences. People wear computers for many reasons. Mobility is the most obvious benefit. Scuba divers wear them in order to measure and record information while swimming underwater. Soldiers use them in urban war zones, where standing still is not an option. People also wear computers so that they canexistin new ways. Wearables work in conjunction with augmented reality (AR), which is technology that offers people a virtual realityin addition tothe real-world reality that they currently experience (Azuma 356; Azuma...

    • 12 Sousveillance: Wearable and Digital Tools in Surveilled Environments
      (pp. 179-196)
      Jason Nolan, Steve Mann and Barry Wellman

      Surveillance is everywhere, but often little observed. Organizations have tried to make technology mundane and invisible through its disappearance into the fabric of buildings, objects, and bodies. The creation of pervasive ubiquitous technologies—such as smart floors, toilets, elevators, highway cameras, and light switches—means that intelligencegathering devices for ubiquitous surveillance are also becoming invisible (Mann and Niedzviecki; Marx “The Engineering of Social Control”; Lefebvre). For example, closedcircuit television networks (CCTV) surveill neighborhoods in the name of public safety. This proliferation ofsmalltechnologies and data conduits has brought new opportunities for observation and data collection, making public surveillance of...

    • 13 Ambient Video: The Transformation of the Domestic Cinematic Experience
      (pp. 197-206)
      Jim Bizzocchi

      The yule log burns cheerfully in the fireplace. Or does it? In 1996, I created a visual conversation piece for our annual Christmas party. I installed a small charcoal-grey TV set in the fireplace, and ran prerecorded footage of a burning log, which I had shot in the very same fireplace. The illusion was interesting enough to enthrall our guests in those moments when they had run out of immediate conversation. This video installation was a form of ambient media in the tradition of Brian Eno’s ambient music, which “must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without...

    • 14 Sound in Domestic Virtual Environments
      (pp. 207-211)
      Jeremy Yuille

      Artists, filmmakers, game developers, architects, and telephone companies (to name a few) have all at some time wondered how to use sound to help communicate and engage their audiences in the worlds they create. The issues they face and the solutions they reach differ, but all would agree that sound plays an important role in engaging an audience. Just try the standard test of turning the volume down during a horror film to see how important sound is to building a sense of emotional involvement. Films, games, and simulations represent different creative goals and uses of the audiovisual medium with...

    • 15 Getting Real and Feeling in Control: Haptic Interfaces
      (pp. 212-222)
      Joanna Castner Post

      Haptics are a collection of tools, including hardware and software, that allows us to feel and manipulate virtual objects. Haptics infuse the digital with the sensual. Imagine experiencing the texture of an ancient manuscript online. Consider the possibilities of adding the tactile to the visual in graphical displays. Speculate about the nature of writing made material in radical new ways. But also think about the social and political implications of embodying our digital creations. What will it mean to make our digital objects and spaces “more real,” for example? What is real? If X and Y are real, what does...

    • 16 Digital Craft and Digital Touch: Hands-on Design with an “Undo” Button
      (pp. 223-232)
      Mark Paterson

      In terms of artistic applications, craft, and industrial design, the implications for the convergence of digital craft with digital touch are significant. As digital designer Malcolm McCullough argues, “Increasingly computing shows promise of becoming the medium that could reunite visual thinking with manual dexterity and practiced knowledge” (50). The technologies of touch, or “haptics,” are a rapidly developing area where such manual dexterity and practiced knowledge, so necessary for the kinds of direct contact and manipulation of materials that characterize craft and hands-on design, can enter the digital realm. In past decades haptic technologies have been quietly proliferating, finding uses...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 233-236)