Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Authority of a Map of Pictures

The Google's Crisis in Darfur does not emphasize the importance of satellite images in understanding the conflict in Sudan. The Lisa Parks points out "At the Crisis inDarfur interface, satellite images are traversed in favor of closer view and anthropomorphic representations. many of which featured injured bodies and/or displaced women and children" (7). That is, instead of looking down on this isomorphic view of the earth, and from that position understanding how the destruction ensues through aerial photography, we click on these icons scattered throughout the map to zoom-in and read text or look at more common photo-journalism visual capital. The Google Earth implementation then does not really use Google Earth at all (it could have easily plotted out these icons on a 2-D map of Sudan, without bringing Google into this).

For Parks, this project could instead use satellite images productively. These images are abstract, unfamiliar to us, unlike anything we are used to in the newspaper, and thus open to new interpretations. "To expose territorial dimensions of atrocities such as burned villages... perpetrators' maneuvers and hideouts. Their abstraction may help sustain a sense of complexity of the conflict rather than reduce it to the familiar tropes" (7).

By exploring the satellite pictures, not only do we fail to fall into the trap of over-exposure, but we can "predict other villages at risk given analysis of the location already attacked and the spatial patterns of the attacks" (8). For Lisa Parks, this is one of the main reasons the All Eyes onDarfur Project is more successful than Google's Crisis in Darfur project, in that this project uses the time-dated visual capital of satellite imagery to its fullest extent by harnessing the power of this tool.

However, the Crisis in Darfur project does not wish to allow the inhabitants of Sudan to combat the Janjaweed directly. While this use of satellite imagery is important to the military or humanitarian groups on the ground in Sudan, we need to understand satellite imagery and access to theDarfur crisis for a global audience.

This project was created "because the vast majority of people don't read 80-page human rights reports" (2). What makes Google think that if people will not read an 80-page document, they will take the time to look at "1,600 destroyed and partially destroyed villages, plus audio and pictorial evidence" (5)? Access here is not cumbersome or getting enough evidence, it is time consuming.

Lisa Parks draws interesting comparisons between current use of satellite imagery and previous use of satellite imagery on the table on page 6. I took this as an interesting argument in stating access to Cold War satellite imagery as exclusive, thus making it a precious visual capital, while now the abundance of satellite imagery (without an authoritative source such as the government to slowly disseminate "top secret" photos) lowers the value of visual capital.

Google gives easy access to these satellite images of Sudan (one can ignore the Crisis in Darfur interface and simply explore the area). While Lisa Parks writes that "Google Earth has now taken on the function of making this information accessible and valuable within the global economy" (9), perhaps by making this easy to access they are asking too much of the reader? True access requires difficult, time consuming interpretation of an abundance of media objects. A global audience does not have to stare intently at the two or three images of the nuclear missile launch site from last week, but they are expected to comprehend large amounts of complex data through abstract representations of aerial photos.

There is an advantage to Park's call for "visuality of the future imperfect- a way of looking that is limited to the acknowledgement and intention as opposed to regret and lament" (12), but can we find that tense using satellite images? The conflict inDarfur is complex, but using Google software, the same software I'm using on my computer to type my papers or find directions to my friend's house, to try to grasp the conflict inDarfur doesn't make Darfur complex, it makes access complex. With a limited background on the issue but vast amounts of data, I am not experiencing over-exposure, only lament.


Taking on Vicente Rafael's text, we can seek to understand what makes visual capital valuable. Is there a correlation between U.S. Gov of the 50's and Google now in satellite images, and the Filipinotxters ' desire for the Catholic church to broadcast messages over the radio in People Power II? Does authority force people to listen, or interpret, to force once to understand when they are granted access to a message?

One could suggest that Google's undated satellite and "on the ground" images create rumors by living within an a-historical media sphere. "While Google can act as a "kind of authority figure" they do not give their images the "legitimacy" (408) that the US govt. gave their satellite images of the Cold War. We can assume these Google satellite images are not altered, that these are images directly from the satellite onto my computer, but they are not damning evidence that I should "act" upon immediately. We don't have a reaction of "those damn Russians! We need a missile defense system!" Legitimacy of the images might be tied to a state backing, but this might also be tied to a local vs. a global issue (only certain locals within a global effect certain portions of a global audience).

Google is accountable for this information, but one needs authority for information to not count as "groundless rumors" (409).

Where does authority in People Power II come from: the crowd, the government, the church, from the message, from technology, from policy change? Is Google trying to build a crowd, is Google Earth acting as the cellphone, or is Google the Church- ordaining this message?

If we are talking about crowds, we must remember how crowd politics works. Authority lies outside of the Txters, outside of the users of Crisis in Darfur, outside of users of the map. The users of these tools discover the "fetish of technology as the capacity to seek access to, and recognition from, authority" (412). But where will the bodies amass on Google Earth to get their voices heard by all global actors in theDarfur scenario?

Congestion is a tactic of authority ("what everywhere seems like an inexorable surrender of space to the people who use it- and use it up" (413)), there is protest through congestion- where is there space to amass and question authority in software?


In Michel de Certeau's 'The Practice of Everyday Life', I'd like to explore how the map and the tour explain satellite photography.

Are we looking at the Crisis in Darfur as an itinerary, one that organizes are space for us? For Michel de Cereaur, these itineraries "make the journey, before or during the time the feet perform it" (116), but this brings up a few problems. First, how are we supposed to walk acrossDarfur to view these images of destruction, and is clicking on different points on a map make up for this organization of space? We are not given instructions in Crisis inDarfur on which order to travel the space (traveling is not a factor in Google Earth), instead, we are given waypoints to visit, destination to jump to.

Obviously Google Earth is a map, but we are not sure if Crisis in Darfur project is a mapping project or a guide. We can see Google Earth as place ("the law of the 'proper' rules in the place: the elements taken into consideration are beside one another, each situated in its own 'proper' and distinct location, a location it defines" (117)) and the Crisis inDarfur project as space ("Space occurs as the effect produced by the opera-tions that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities" (117)). We have a geo-politcal map on the bottom layer, with proper names of nations and cities, and we our touring the space of conflict, the regions and communities at war, entire areas wiped out.

The fact that this is a virtual map, hosted by a trans-national corporation based out of California, dealing with a specifically "African" political/cultural/religious issue, further complicates matters. Maps are supposed to "juxtapose two very different elements: the data furnished by a tradition (Ptolemy’s Geography, for instance) and those that came from navigators (portulans, for example). The map thus collates on the same plane heterogeneous places, some received from 'a tradition and others produced by observation (121)". But where is tradition in satellite images? Is the Crisis in Darfur project now a map since we have reporters on the ground pumping on coordinates and data? Does Google Earth software in any way visually represent whatDarfur looks like to a refugee's history of the place?

I'm not sure if this is the same rumor we are dealing with in the previous article. In this article, rumors deal with space and the conflict therein: "Rumors propagated by the media cover everything and, gathered under the figure of the City... the substitute for all proper names, they wipe out or combat any superstitions still guilty of still resisting the figure" (108)

Should we look at this Crisis in Darfur project as a rumor using this definition?


Misc. questions for class:

What's up with mourning on page 419 in Rafael's cellphone article? Are they mourning the loss of identity, the joy of freedom, the taking back of power as a crowd? Is this mourning for the messiah?

"It is for this reason "patient," which is to say, forbearing and forgiving while forgetting the identities of those it holds and is held by. Forbearance, forgiveness, and forgetting are always slow, so slow in coming. They thus share in, if not constitute, the rhythm of the work of the mourning that in turn always entails of the sharing of work" (419)

In Michel de Certeau's article, what are the enunciatory operations of a user of Google Earth user? And what trail are we tracking in the project: the trail of destruction in the satellite images, the trail of navigation of the user? If we find this trail, what does this trail not show?

"All the modalities sing a part in this chorus, changing from step to step, stepping through proportions, sequences, and intensities which vary according to the time, the path taken and the walker. These enunciatory operations are of unlimited diversity. They therefore cannot be reduced to their graphic trail" (99).

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