This week I began reading Vibrant Matter, and not to be dramatic, but one major take away from the first chapter is that we (people) seem to be viewing the world in an increasingly apathetic sense. I don’t know a better word than apathy, but I will think about it, because I don’t mean to sound negative at all. There seems to be a philosophical trend toward slowly realizing the lack of agency that people have. For example, the unit of evolution was reduced to the gene, from the individual and the species in the sixties, and subsequently intellectual and idea evolution was reduced to the meme level, where perceivable concepts are mere consequences of infinite minor negotiations. What Benett is calling “thing-power”, emergence and network theories became the leading views in organization and research, and as a result the person became a vehicle for these systems , acting on their behalf. People have less agency both in comparison to things, which have increasingly more agency, and in being seen more as a complicated system of things, or becoming things themselves.
Theodor Adorno’s “nonidentity” places the world entirely in the realm of (non vibrant) things, and addresses the gap between the conceptual (identity) and reality. Although he claims that “this gap is ineradicable”, Benett denies his acceptance of this by saying that he is still attempting to cross the gap by allowing that it may be possible through thinking about it. He calls that which is not knowable “nonidentity”, and says that it haunts us, and that we can only learn to deal with it by accepting it. The reason I bring this up: according to Adorno, concepts are “moments of the reality that requires their formation” and so conceptualization is immediately removed from the reality, and must be scrutinized in light of reality, which we are able to discern in much more complete ways. This reminds me of mathematics, where we perform operations on abstractions, that inevitably refer back to reality, and are often accurate again, but are completely unrepresentative within the process. As part of Adorno’s process of getting to know nonidentity, he describes the act of “clowning”, or accepting the clownish traits that are part of the known denial of nonidentity that is necessary for conceptualization. Accepting the act as an act of clowning is a way to deal with the haunting nonidentity, that is the “painful, nagging feeling that something’s being forgotten or left out. . . .the inadequacy of representation.”
Ok, so back to my point about recognizing through this text a trajectory toward the thingifying of everything and denying the agency of anything by seeing action as consequence of systemic processes, two things. First, clowning about representation seems to be the current state of everything, in accepting this act both literally, in the postmodern world of reimagining and turning everything upside down, as in current art, or fashion in Williamsburg, or any skepticism, to the conceptual clowining of continuing to philosophize in this way. In a way weather or not things, once everything is reduced to things, have vibrancy or not becomes a moot point. Things, which become the smallest component of a system, through their agency or non agency, behave in some way, and weather we attribute to that our original concept of agency, which doesn’t stem from such an understanding, but rather from a human centered view of free will, I think, doesn’t seem as relevant as our desire to do so. Distorted through an outmoded perspective, agency and lack of agency become oposites, but in a different conceptual world, starting from the fundamental thingism as a reference point, they could be referring to the same thing. Instead of ascribing agency to things, we can remove the concept from everything.
That has got to be hard to read. I’m sorry. It was kind of a rant I need to think about longer.
I’m not sure if my proposal has changed, but I am much more engaged with the concept of vibrancy.
My goal for this week is to develop a literal plan of action for building the first of these, which I think will be a wearable speaker application. And for doing more research on proximity activation, which at this point is still a mystery to me, and is the most important part of my project.
My Original Proposal:
Mobile and location aware technology have changed our lives, but applications of it continue to enhance already familiar experiences: make travel easier, encourage serendipity, enable social interactions, serve up information about physical locations nearby, help you spend your money with coupons, etc. In this sense, they ground themselves in the physical world, and derive their meaning from the interaction of the physical with the data layers. I am interested in the possibility of a next stage for these applications.
There is an increasing amount of dialogue about a newly emerging sense of place inspired by these technologies (I have been reading Marc Auge, De Certeau, LeFebvre, Lev Manovich, Miwon Kwon, Vito Acconci, Benjamin Bratton, Kevin Slavin, Nichola Nova, James Landay, Julian Bleeker, Yang Boxu, Mizuko Ito, Sadie Plant, Adriana de Souza e Silva, Carl Disalvo and Janet Vertesi, Anne Galloway, Mei-Po Kwan, Mitchell Moss, Anthony Twonsend, Adam Greenfield, William Whyte, the situationists, etc, a mix of older and newer works, that demonstrate this trajectory, as well as how long it has been studied in different ways).
The ubiquity of mobile devices threatens and transforms the sense of physical space as a constant and grounding “location”, and create what Dr. Sadie Plan (in her ethnographic study for Motorola) called a “dislocated, slightly schizophrenic world”. Can mobile devices offer an alternative but equally grounding sense of place and certainty by creating their own kind of place? What kind of logic and structure would these places have? Perhaps in the information space users’ similar interests schedules could define time settings and locations. Groups of people can inhabit the same physical space, but be immersed in shared worlds with only relevant other people or completely alone. The device would have a “personal” responsibility of maintaining that sort of space for the user. Through gaining this kind of semi autonomy, it becomes its own place or main reference point that you cary with you, or perhaps in being so dependable, more of a friend or a pet than a device (I think it is already reality to some extent). Does the device then need or want to interact with or have some sort of attraction to other devices? Can it gain more power from its proximity to another device?
I would like to create proximity triggered behaviors between phones that are not geared at creating interactions for the users but just for the phones themselves, and in turn for making the users aware of the interaction of the phones in their proximity, and the “space” they define. I would create a mobile application that explores these ideas through several functions: One: a user has a phone that they can use to listen to music, then another user enters the subway, when they are within a certain range, their phones begin to play the same song, and they are joined in a similar experience or metaphorical “space” through the negotiation between their devices. Two: both phones light up, or light up another article of clothing to illuminate the formation of a proximity network. Three: a self activating bluetooth radio: a phone becomes a microphone when you are in close proximity to other phones, that then transmits what you say to the other phones around you, effectively using the Occupy Wall Street style of microphone system. Four: a less obvious manifestation: the phone picks up a bug or a habit from another phone. Eventually the phones develop a dialog. If two phones are often in close proximity to each other, they can begin to deduce that the owners may want to share recommendations or sync up in other ways, (similar to women in close proximity beginning to menstruate at the same time). The phones can react to the states and “feelings” or nearby phones, and of their owner. They can, for example, be “inspired” by certain situations and grow to develop their own preferences, based on their owner’s and other phones around them’s habits and ideas.
Technology used: Android development platform, java, bluetooth modules.