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The Imaginary App

The Imaginary App

Paul D. Miller
Svitlana Matviyenko
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Imaginary App
    Book Description:

    Mobile apps promise to deliver (h)appiness to our devices at the touch of a finger or two. Apps offer gratifyingly immediate access to connection and entertainment. The array of apps downloadable from the app store may come from the cloud, but they attach themselves firmly to our individual movement from location to location on earth. InThe Imaginary App,writers, theorists, and artists--including Stephen Wolfram (in conversation with Paul Miller) and Lev Manovich--explore the cultural and technological shifts that have accompanied the emergence of the mobile app. These contributors and interviewees see apps variously as "a machine of transcendence," "a hulking wound in our nervous system," or "a promise of new possibilities." They ask whether the app is an object or a relation, and if it could be a "metamedium" that supersedes all other artistic media. They consider the control and power exercised by software architecture; the app's prosthetic ability to enhance certain human capacities, in reality or in imagination; the app economy, and the divergent possibilities it offers of making a living or making a fortune; and the app as medium and remediator of reality.Also included (and documented in color) are selected projects by artists asked to design truly imaginary apps, "icons of the impossible." These include a female sexual arousal graph using Doppler images; "The Ultimate App," which accepts a payment and then closes, without providing information or functionality; and "iLuck," which uses GPS technology and four-leaf-clover icons to mark places where luck might be found.ContributorsChristian Ulrik Andersen, Thierry Bardini, Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, Benjamin H. Bratton, Drew S. Burk, Patricia Ticineto Clough, Robbie Cormier, Dock Currie, Dal Yong Jin, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Ryan and Hays Holladay, Atle Mikkola Kjøsen, Eric Kluitenberg, Lev Manovich, Vincent Manzerolle, Svitlana Matviyenko, Dan Mellamphy, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, Steven Millward, Anna Munster, Søren Bro Pold, Chris Richards, Scott Snibbe, Nick Srnicek, Stephen Wolfram

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32079-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    Software is deeply woven into contemporary life—economically, culturally, creatively, politically—in manners both obvious and nearly invisible. Yet while much is written about how software is used, and the activities that it supports and shapes, thinking about software itself has remained largely technical for much of its history. Increasingly, however, artists, scientists, engineers, hackers, designers, and scholars in the humanities and the social sciences are finding that the questions they face, and the things they want to build, require an expanded understanding of software. For such understanding they can call upon texts in the history of computing and new...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Paul D. Miller
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Paul D. Miller and Svitlana Matviyenko
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxxvi)
    Svitlana Matviyenko

    Advertising rhetoric does not exhaust itself entertaining associations between technology and happiness. “Think appy thoughts,” Nokia’s app store tells us. Apple’s slogan “There’s an app for that” sends the same message: “If you have a problem, look for an app, the ultimate solution—always, anytime, anywhere.” No matter what one thinks about such marketing propaganda, “(h)appiness” has been delivered and installed on our mobile devices at the tips of our fingers. The goal of this book is to carve a discursive niche that accommodates a variety of multidisciplinary accounts of mobile applications, addressing the expectations, skepticisms, risks, changes, fantasies, and...

  7. I Architectures

    • 1 On Apps and Elementary Forms of Interfacial Life: Object, Image, Superimposition
      (pp. 3-16)
      Benjamin H. Bratton

      What are apps? On the one hand, apps are applications, and so operate within something like an application layer of a cloud-to-device software/hardware “stack.” But as most of the real information processing is going on in the cloud, and not in the box in your hand, the app on your phone is really more an interface to the real application, which sits in a datacenter, hidden within an anonymous shed or mountain. As an interface, the app connects the single remote device to an ocean of data and brings that data to bear on the user’s immediate interests. Further, given...

    • 2 Controlled Consumption Culture: When Digital Culture Becomes Software Business
      (pp. 17-34)
      Søren Bro Pold and Christian Ulrik Andersen

      We live in the era of cultural computing. New IT gadgets—including not only game consoles and e-readers, but also tablets and smartphones—are sold as platforms for cultural content. The market leader is Apple, whose iOS platforms (iPod, iPhone, and iPad) have developed gradually from MP3 players into personal, intimate mobile platforms for various kinds of cultural media (including e-books, radio, television, movies, and games) and for various software apps including and integrating Web 2.0 social software (among them Facebook and Twitter). All iOS platforms have integrated online shops, owned and operated by Apple (iTunes, App Store, iBooks, Game...

    • 3 The Philosophical Carpentry of the App: Criticism and Practice
      (pp. 35-50)
      Patricia Ticineto Clough

      In the introduction to his bookAlien Phenomenology,Ian Bogost suggests that philosophers ought not justwritephilosophy, at least not without practicing, doing, or making. He urges engagement in “carpentry”: “constructing artifacts that do philosophy.”¹ Bogost adds to Graham Harman’s take on “the carpentry of things” “the carpentry of hands-on craftsmanship,” further proposing that “carpentry entails making things that explain how things make their world.”² Bogost’s examples, his own software productions for what he envisions as “platform studies,” suggest a link between object-oriented ontology and digital or informational technologies and the crisis of form in the presentation of content...

    • 4 Remote Control: Wolfram|Alpha and Machinic Protocol
      (pp. 51-64)
      Robbie Cormier

      The Internet’s “Big Bang,” according to Vint Cerf (who, alongside Bob Kahn, is recognized as one of its fathers), did not occur with the idea for, or the technical implementation of, or the commercial availability of the Internet. Instead, Cerf identifies this event with the introduction of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and the first Web browser by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s. The Web was an early and important enabler of social computing and is, it is worth noting, anapplication(distinct from the browsers that access it) among others on the Internet. Before long, however, this initial...

    • 5 The Path Is Math: On the Art and Science of Numbers
      (pp. 65-68)
      Stephen Wolfram

      Paul D. Miller:Pythagoras is alleged to have written “all is number.” As we move further into a data driven global economy, algorithms that you have developed are driving things like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Bing, and Google and Yelp. You have a long history of thinking about the way mathematics and information can intervene in the world to create a better and more optimized response to almost any context and condition. I’d like to ask what you think about the next five years in computation. What’s next for Wolfram?

      Stephen Wolfram:I think my modified version of Pythagoras, two millennia...

  8. II Prosthetics

    • 6 Auxiliary Organs: An Ethics of the Extended Mind
      (pp. 71-82)
      Nick Srnicek

      For Freud, technological extensions of the human were not merely a means to approximating religious ideals; they were in fact essential to civilization. Civilization was coextensive with technology, and the enhancement of human capacities was one of humankind’s greatest achievements.¹ Nearly a hundred years later, Freud’s diagnosis rings truer than ever before. We are increasingly immersed in massive and complex sociotechnical systems wherever we look, and a digital layer of augmentation increasingly permeates our world. This article argues for three claims: first, that mobile phones today (and at least for the foreseeable future²) embody the primary means of integrating humans...

    • 7 Must We Burn Virilio? The App and the Human System
      (pp. 83-98)
      Dock Currie

      The app is not a program; it is a hulking wound in our nervous system, and it is the synthetic flesh that grows in its place, and it is crawling. This piece highlights a kind oftraverseof the app that ought to be of concern as much to contemporary ontologists as to philosophers of technology. That is, with the advent of mobile technology, we have seen, in our lifetimes, the locus of technology’smachtshift from the sedentary body of thedesktop computeruser to the nomadic body of the networked subject. Indeed, because this shift entails a movement...

    • 8 The App as an Extension of Man’s Desires
      (pp. 99-110)
      Eric Kluitenberg

      For all the practical purposes the multitude of apps available in the marketplace and the commons can be seen fit for, there is yet something deeply phantasmatic about the app universe: a promise of new possibilities beyond the limitations of “life before the app.” The use of the term became widely adopted after the introduction of Apple’s iPhone and its software distribution point called the App Store. In contrast with “software” (a detached, level-headed, pragmatic designation for a work-related tool, usually statically located on a writing table in an office or a study), this snappy three-letter word indicates the portable...

    • 9 “Text and Walk without Fear”: Apps and the Experience of Transparency
      (pp. 111-124)
      Anna Munster

      Not long after the release of the iPhone 3GS in 2009, a new genre of apps began to appear that were largely billed as “functional.” Making the screen of a smartphone appear transparent so that one could look “through” or beyond the icons to the street below, these apps promised to allow the user to continue texting “without fear” of falling or bumping into a lamp post. Typical of such an app is Type n Walk.¹ The selling point of such an app is its prosthetic combination with the user’s peripheral vision, providing the perfect technical assistance of just enough...

  9. III Economics

    • 10 App Worker
      (pp. 127-142)
      Nick Dyer-Witheford

      A new and enigmatic figure has recently appeared in North America’s anxious dreams about jobs, prosperity, and the very fate of global capitalism: that of the app worker. Within a few years of Apple opening its App Store, rumors of a burgeoning “app economy” began to spread through IT, business, and job-finding websites, through company prospectuses, and through app-making-for-dummies manuals.¹ Stories of young men abandoning day jobs or school to make millions writing apps proliferated in the media, and enthusiastic business reports declared that apps were “where the jobs are.”² These were among the very few sparks of light in...

    • 11 Dare et Capere: Virtuous Mesh and a Targeting Diagram
      (pp. 143-162)
      Vincent Manzerolle and Atle Mikkola Kjøsen

      Commodities are attracted to money, argues Marx. Indeed, “commodities are in love with money.”¹ But what appears as a love affair for things is a fetish between humans; love is exchange value. Hence, where commodities and money find love, their guardians must go; individuals are, after all, but personifications of economic categories—fleeting, repeating inhabitants of economic functions and forms.² Once upon a time this meant people journeying to downtowns, stores, plazas, malls, and other places where commodities used to gather in large numbers in hope of finding their significant equivalent. More and more, “because of the Internet and smartphones”...

    • 12 Construction of the App Economy in the Networked Korean Society
      (pp. 163-178)
      Dal Yong Jin

      With the rapid growth of smartphones and applications, Korean society has witnessed a dramatic change. While traditional information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as television, fixed telephone lines, and the Internet are still significant in the national economy and culture, smartphones and applications have swiftly become a new area that corporations and people desire to own and use. Many countries—Western and nonWestern—have developed smartphones and applications (apps) to advance socio-cultural, technical, and economic growth. Korea is a world leader in both penetration of smartphones and use of apps. Both huge ICT corporations (including Samsung and LG) and small...

    • 13 What China’s Netizens Want: Building Tech Ecosystems in the World’s Toughest Market
      (pp. 179-186)
      Steven Millward

      It is a testament to the strength and competitiveness of the Chinese Internet space that it is home to about a dozen Web giants. Many of those, displaying a typical fear of not having a thumb in each super-size pie of over 560 million Internet users¹ and 1.1 billion mobile subscribers,² have long since diversified into an astonishing array of areas—highlighting a marked difference to the Western model of more single-purpose online services. Who are these big online brands that are so familiar to the China’s netizens? Let’s look at four prominent names.

      Baidu is China’s leading search engine...

  10. IV Remediations

    • 14 The Language of Media Software
      (pp. 189-204)
      Lev Manovich

      Outside of certain cultural areas, such as crafts and fine art, software has replaced a diverse array of physical, mechanical, and electronic technologies used before the twenty-first century to create, store, distribute, and access cultural artifacts. When you use Instagram, iPhone’s Camera app, or Photoshop to edit an image, you are using software. When you use your mobile phone or tablet to tweet, post messages on Facebook, search videos on YouTube, or check flight schedules, you are using software. Your mobile phone comes with dozens of pre-installed software programs (i.e., apps), and it you want more you can choose from...

    • 15 Apps as “Charming Junkware”?
      (pp. 205-216)
      Thierry Bardini

      Deadline approaches, and I scan my notes. Well, not much to start with. By reflex I input the expression “an app for that” in Google. The result is instantaneous: approximately 16 millions hits. A student² sent me a link to some stats, an infographic report from Nuance Communication,³ produced in 2012 with the help of various sources and no indication of methodology whatsoever. I try to follow the links a bit more, but I give up on account of the unbearable slowness of my connection. (I am out in the country.) I don’t mind, however; the first lines of the...

    • 16 The Spinoza Lens-Grinder App
      (pp. 217-230)
      Drew S. Burk

      The reader has entered into an imaginary app. This theoretical app is a fictional genre akin to the non-standard aesthetics attempted by François Laruelle of a photo-fictional apparatus.¹ But while Laruelle’s non-standard aesthetics has to date merely focused on a photo-fiction—a theoretical discursive mimesis of the photographic process—in his treatisePhoto-Fiction, a Non-Standard Aesthetics, the following conceptual essay is an attempt at an “app-fiction.” It will thus be a discursive mimesis of a theoretical imaginary app, constructed, like any ordinary app, with programming, coding, theoretical stitching, welding, and digital temporality. Although this text may read like any ordinary...

    • 17 From the Digital to the Tentacular, or From iPods to Cephalopods: Apps, Traps, and Entrées-without-Exit
      (pp. 231-250)
      Dan Mellamphy and Nandita Biswas Mellamphy

      While walking or taking public transportation to work, the authors of this essay inevitably pass by numbers of people doing the same, albeit with their heads tilted down and their attention fixated on hand-held gadgets (in 2012, the year in which this essay was written, iPods, iPads, Android tablets, cell phones, and the like). The number of people apparently proceeding through the city but in fact still in the virtual cell of their monadological monasteries grows weekly. These individuals with their attention rapt/rapped/enraptured by apps—monks trapped in and by their trappist app cell[phone]s, compulsively consuming their hypertext-tablets—are all...

    • 18 To Make You Completely Present in the Moment
      (pp. 251-256)
      Scott Snibbe

      Svitlana Matviyenko:As pieces of application software, apps apply the power of computing system for a particular purpose. Thinking of your projects, how do you see this “purpose”? How do your projects—such asBiophiliaapps for Bjork or MotionPhone app—challenge or further develop the idea of an app?

      Scott Snibbe:I’ve been creating a similar type of computer program as interactive audiovisual artwork for about thirty years. I was raised by artists, and when I got my first computer, an Apple II+, all it did when you turn it on was flash a cursor on an empty screen....

    • 19 Nonlinear Music Navigates the Earth
      (pp. 257-264)
      Ryan and Hays Holladay

      Bluebrain is a band currently based in Washington, D.C., where its two members, the brothers Hays and Ryan Holladay, were born in the early 1980s. The capital’s marble monuments and grassy knolls had a profound effect on them as kids, and two decades later, they would “score” their city with an imaginative collision of composition and technology that was dubbed the world’s first “location-aware album.”

      The Holladays’ musical career first took shape during their college years in New York City. They formed a band called The Epochs, which released some recordings but eventually perished in Brooklyn’s cannibalistic indie-rock jungle. When...

  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 265-272)
  12. Index
    (pp. 273-279)
  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)