Thursday, November 19, 2009

Get Excited and Make Things

There's this meme thingy going around in certain internet circles. I was vaguely reminded of it by the talk on Tuesday.

I have no interesting conclusions yet, but I have an initial impression: I liked Jonah Brucker-Cohen's work, and I liked Chris Csikszentmihályi's work, but I wish they were both a little more... something. They both work in more conceptual, and less aesthetic, media, and thus I appreciate their work more for the work it does than the impression it makes. Thus while Brucker-Cohen's police trucks are quite pretty, I find them one of his least interesting works, as their control structure is so arbitrary and unenlightening. By contrast, I like his wifi-redistributor much more, as it can actually mutate a social space in unexpected ways. But like his bluetooth-enabled yelling box, it feels unfinished, a nifty idea executed in such a way as to not really have a deep effect on the audience, more likely to be brushed off as a confusing distraction. My very favorite thing he talked about was his instrument-creation workshops. That is exactly the sort of thing.

Csikszentmihályi has done a little better, I think. He has put practical tools in the hands of people who have built protest robots. His students have redefined the rules of cellphone use and provided an anonymous network that reveals a layer of data (sexual orientation density/diversity) not usually apparent. But it's still all.. not quite. Or yes quite, but only for a few people. I'm not yet convinced that any of it is better at getting people to think and act than a good painting. Everything about modern technology, and networks especially, is so precarious and visible that I have this persistent feeling of how bizarre it is that no one exposes it all, widely, catastrophically, and constantly. I keep hearing about projects that intercept wifi, or easy exploits to important websites, or the availability of materials to construct all manner of disruptive devices... and yet I see none of it. I'm not sure whether to be reassured - it's more stable than you think! - or even more terrified - everyone's ignoring it, it's becoming a blindspot, and as soon as someone with a strong enough motive and a little bit of know-how comes along, it's all over.

Most likely such a decisive moment will never come, but perhaps mundane reality is worse. Rather than worry about enormous, glaring flaws, perhaps we should be more concerned with the inexorable rise of spam, spyware, drm, etc.

Not sure how this is related, but suddenly I'm thinking about the other side in a sense. The fact that the network is never 'open', is never 'free', is never 'ours by rights'. The bits need energy. The bits need wires and transmitterse and receivers. They have to be manufactured and installed. The infrastructural dependency network is vastly more complex and layered than the internet it supports.

Man, I'm really unfocused. It's all so big. I guess I think there's value in just going over it all, putting ideas next to each other in different ways? Probably.

I guess it's really hard, obviously, to make a big impression.

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