Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In reading Terranova's Network Culture in conjunction with our explorations of networks in the lab on Monday I was struck by the idea of entropy and the way in which computer systems and network cards in particular, deal with information and create and organizational structure which is simultaneously identifiable (e.g. port assignments) and dynamically changing (in terms of who is accessing that  information, whether it is sending or receiving, etc.) and the contingencies required to accommodate choice and multiple possible futures.

Of particular interest was an example given by professor Chun on Tuesday. The promiscuous collection of all available signals and subsequent erasure of unnecessary information by network cards is but one example of dealing with the overabundance of information available and the uncertainty of a system which envolves individual choice. Working in an inverse manner the seeming magic of predictive text technology such as T9 and Autocomplete can be explained readily through the fact that
"codes such as the English language obey definite statistical laws that determine the likely frequency of any combination of letters ... the English language is thus defined as a code that involves approximately 50 percent individual freedom in the choice of symbols and 50 percent necessity as established by the statistical laws of the code. By mathematizing the relationship between redundancy in a code such as English, one could devise some means to encode the message more effectively."
The possible set of future realities is embedded within the technology and makes the improbable that much more profound and the failures of the system that much more dramatic. The fact that there are entire websites dedicated to the failures of autocomplete is telling. The unconscious of the system is revealed and much like the unconscious of Freudian psychoanalysis, it expresses what the system itself is incapable of accommodating.

At a larger scale the informational milieu further mimics the Freudian unconscious in the way in which it is constitutive of mind, character, and material. Just as the unconscious manifests itself on the surface through the actions it gives rise to and the various ruptures it may cause, the informational milieu manifests in the concretization of the intangible and dynamic and is at its most evident when it malfunctions. Stated more plainly, information underlies, precedes, and embeds itself within systems of identification through the same statistical formations which make linguistic prediction possible.  The informing of the form of a glass or other object by the size  and range of motion of a hand functions in the same manner as an individuals gender identity is informed by the range of choices presented as available. When these things fail to accomodate reality is the moment we firs realize their presence.

But there is still the problem of how to distinguish these ruptures and disjunctions from mere noise within the system of communication. As Terranova points out at the beginning of the book it is a problem of information overload. In our increasingly mediated lifestyle we are confronted with more information and the task of discerning the meaningful has become increasingly difficult. How are we to know if something is truly a crisis if everything is presented as a crisis? Terranova cites Baudrillard's statement that "information and meaning might be inversely proportional: the more information the less meaning." However, this concern seems somewhat premature, and might simply be a matter of adjustment of our perception over time. Filtering of noise from signal in order to create an understandable world is the central work of all human perception and perhaps the suggestions of new sensory developments along the lines of those suggested by Nigel Thrift are what we should expect, particularly when one considers the centrality of affect and passion to Terranova's description of cultural politics.

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