Unlecture #12

The final symposium of Networked Media served to sum up the course as a whole, and gave a chance for each tutor to detail their thoughts on how it has gone, and what has stood out for them.

I found this format very useful for a Week 12 lecture, especially because most of my other classes don’t run a lecture at all. It was good to be able to detail the trajectory of the course, and how everything links in together (in a network if you would), and although this would have been very useful to see at the start of the course, it probably would have been difficult given the ‘speculative’ nature of it.

I liked the discussion about the internet being transparent, open and public, and how making anything online closed or secure fundamentally contradicts the basic ideals of the internet. The quote from Adrian was nice, describing how individuals are like sponges that soak up new information and techniques, while universities are like bricks, that form a wall to stop people accessing these new things.

The course began with ideas of learning and different techniques of education, such as double-loop, moved on to a whole lot on hypertext and narrative, then to protocol and their influence on the network, and finally to database and their effect on narratives.

I really liked using this style of lecture to sum up the course, and it helped to show that there actually was a method to the sometimes ‘madness’ of the course, and helped to show the coherent links between what we have been reading and discussing, both in the tutes and the lectures.


The notion of speculative thinking has been a primary focus of this subject throughout the semester.

I find this a fascinating subject, especially when looking back on speculation on what the ‘present’ would look like, and how wrong people were.

I found this example, of Isaac Asimov, a science-fiction author and professor of biochemistry, predicting what the year 2014 would look all the way back in 1964.

Included in his predications are ‘automeals’, ‘electroluminescent panels’, robots, hovercars and a ‘society of enforced leisure’.

Although many of these seem laughable now, they were real, possible ideas of what the future could be, and he did in fact get some things right, like the idea of video-calling and conferencing.

In contrast to this, I also found this article, which predicts how the human face might look like in 100,000 years time, producing a, frankly, terrifying image.

Although it is pure speculation that probably will not be close to right, it is based on science, and has to be a real possibility.

Just imagine what we’ll be imagining in another 50 years time…

Technological Dreaming

‘Ten Dreams Of Technology’ by Steve Dietz is the last ever reading for Networked Media, and it’s also probably one of my favourites.

The reading, from 2002, describes what happens when art and technology intersect, giving ten examples of the speculative thinking that we’ve focused on this semester in artistic works.

This is relevant because, as Dietz states, “artists were among the earliest and most active participants to recognise the potential of the internet”. These pieces of art won’t end up predicting the future, but they do display a plausible and somewhat realistic idea of what it could be, and this has been such a focus in Netmed.

One of my favourites was ‘The Dream Of Symbiosis’, detailing interaction between man and machine, and postulating that by allowing each to learn from the interaction with the other, both could evolve to higher levels of functioning.

The example given is Rokeby’s ‘Giver Of Names’ from 1990, seen in this video:

This is a metaphor producer, “which invokes the awe of naming and the power of the word to create universes”.

The one that jumps out as relevant to our subject is ‘The Dream Of Emergence’, which describes a “notion of networks as an extended or augmented nervous system out of which intelligence eventually and inevitably emerges”.

‘The Dream Of Immersion’ describes a virtual reality of sorts, with artworks that the viewer is totally immersed in. This combined well with ‘The Dream Of Transparency’, where the “computer resembles more and more its owner…with the passing of time, a computer ends up looking like its owner’s brain”, and immediately led me to think of the Google Glasses, where technology just becomes an extension of our being.

I found this reading to be a great way to sum up some of the key ideas and speculative notions that we’ve investigated in Networked Media throughout the semester.

Unlecture #11

The second last symposium/lecture of the course discussed the origins of the internet, patents, democracy and the internet, and social manners.

I found the first question the most interesting and thought provoking: ‘Why didn’t Tim Berners-Lee patent the web?’.

Most of the answers revolved around the fact that Berners-Lee at a utopian-like view of what the internet could be: an open, universal and free network. Claiming a patent, something that is intended to control and monetize things, would be in direct conflict with these ideals.

Adrian also identified the ‘gift economy’ that the internet is based on, where people freely gift things with no assumption of getting something in return. This was seen from the vert start of the internet, with the American government paying for the research of the internet that is now freely used by anyone that can access it.

Adrian also detailed how the entire infrastructure of the internet is treated as a public good: no-one can actually own it.

Wikipedia is probably the best and simplest notion of the ‘gift economy’. All of its content is contributed by individuals for free, with no expectations of getting anything in return, and it is now one of the huge ‘hubs’ of the internet network.

The idea that most interested me out of this lecture was what the internet would have looked like today if Tim Berners-Lee had in fact patented the web back in 1989.

I found this interesting article from TechDirt that addresses this scenario, and presents an unsettling scenario where the Internet is more of a commodity, something that is own and run by large, wealthy companies.

If it had been patented, the internet may well have been a much more strictly controlled realm largely run be large corporations, rather than by individuals and ideas as it is now.

The level of innovation that the internet encourages and nurtures would also be drastically limited, mainly to just the ideas of the big players, which isn’t usually where the most interesting ideas come from.

Google and some social networks also may never have taken off, due mainly to the legal constraints and limited nature of hypertext and the network.

As the article states, “the use of the internet would be more ‘consumption’ than ‘communication'”. If it had been patented by Tim Berners-Lee, we wouldn’t see the revolutionary, two-way system of reciprocative communciation that we do today.

In fact, if Sir Tim Berners-Lee had decided to patent his creation, the World Wide Web, we probably wouldn’t be participating in a course called ‘Networked Media’.

R.I.P. horse_ebooks

The recent discussion in Netmed about order emerging from the apparent disorder of the internet, and our need to create meaning in meaningless texts, got my thinking about one of my favourite Twitter accounts, @horse_ebooks.

This is a spam account that uses an algorithm, which were a major discussion point in last week’s readings, to collect and post random fragments of text from the internet, interspersed with various links to pain ads.

Despite these posts being completely random, there still emerged a meaning, although this might have been different for every individual. We, as humans, strive to find meaning in everything, and even in these seemingly pointless collections of words, posted by what we thought was a robot, we found truly poignant and poetic phrases.

Some of the accounts best works include “I will make certain you never buy knives again”, “We all agree, no one looks cool”, and my personal favourite, “Everything happens so much”.

This exemplifies the notion that we must find meaning in every text, despite there being no narrative at and the words appearing to be random.

The account has achieved a huge fanbase, with well over 200,000 followers, and has spawned a series of merchandise, fan art, and even fan fiction, displaying the overwhelming power of the networked internet.

The account plays on the old notion that given enough time, a million monkeys on a million typewriters would eventually type out all of Shakespeare’s work, purely random; everything will happen eventually.

But like these networks, everything wasn’t as it seemed. The account, which was originally one of a series of spam accounts for specific ebooks (others include action_ebooks etc), was bought by Jacob Bakkila in 2011, an employee of Buzzfeed, and horse_ebooks’ actions after this became part of a prolonged ‘performance art’ piece by the creator. This art included a link with a similarily ‘random’ Youtube account, as seen through this video:

I think this shows how with new media technologies, they are often developed with one specific purposes, but are commonly ultimately used for very different means. This is an account that was originally created in order to spam Twitter about horse Ebooks and just post ads, being bought by an artist and used to post random strings of words to nearly a quarter of a million followers. The network is a powerful thing.

I think Daniel Sinker summed it up best in his ‘Eulogy For A Horse’:

It was often also beautiful and, in a way, meaningful. Beauty and meaning, built from randomness.


Online Privacy

This is a speech that I wrote as part of a debate for one of my other subjects, International Human Rights & Law. It focuses on ideas of privacy on the internet, and the level of access to citizen’s online correspondences governments should have, and these are issues that we have already touched on in Networked Media.

Privacy is a sacred and basic human right, one that is inherently violated when governments access its citizen’s emails, texts and other forms of electronic media, supposedly in the interests of National Security.

Governments shouldn’t be granted this level of access because: it infringes on one of our crucial human rights, it has never shown to be actually effective in protecting national security, and those in government cannot necessarily be trusted with this sort of power.

As Benjamin Franklin said: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. This is exactly the situation faced by citizens who are having their online communications constantly monitored by governments: their essential liberty is being violated with the intentions of granting some sort of temporary safety. The individual’s right to this liberty of basic privacy is enshrined in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, which states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence”. This is something that is clearly violated by government’s accessing citizens private online correspondences.

In our set textbook, Geoffrey Robertson described the crucial importance of the right to privacy, saying that “privacy is a value which calls for protection because of the individual’s psychological need to preserve an intrusion-free zone of personality and family”. This right to privacy is included in all main human rights treaties, and allowing government’s to inherently access its citizens emails and private online correspondences obviously violates this basic right.

These issues have come to prominence this year after the NSA leaks from Edward Snowden, revealing that the agency keeps a record of emails, Facebook posts and instant messages, as well as massive amounts of raw Internet traffic. But if most of the people that are being monitored aren’t breaking laws, why should their basic right to privacy be violated? If they aren’t abusing any human rights, why should their own human rights be abused? Privacy is at the root of human expression, and its absence will restrict creative opinions, and diverse political expression. The government’s purpose is to be open and transparent, and these forms of underground, concealed spying on innocent civilians is in direct contradiction to this. Edward Snowden himself summed it up perfectly by saying “I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy, and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity”, but with the government’s increasing reliance on accessing its citizens private online communications, we are moving steadily closer to this reality.

Even if we put aside the human rights issues and fundamental violations that this form of surveillance involves, we see that it hasn’t even been proved to have been effective in upholding national security. Once it becomes common knowledge that communications online are being closely monitored, people will begin to act differently, resulting in real criminal behaviour moving to more underground areas. People will always find a way around this sort of surveillance, meaning that only law abiding people will be spied on. A famous quote by Cardinal Richelieu says: “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang them”. Well now governments have overwhelming wealths of information through these monitored online communications,and this will inevitably lead to innocent people being persecuted.

There is no solid, provable evidence that the government’s accessing of citizens emails and other online correspondences has directly led to protecting the national security. We haven’t seen proof that it has prevented a terrorist attack for example, but there are numerous occasions where this so called ‘right’ has been abused to target innocent individuals. Articles revealed under the Freedom Of Information Act state that a division of the Department Of Homeland Security produced daily briefings on the Occupy Wall Street Protests, which included passing on private information to third parties. This is a department that was founded in order to combat terrorism, violating citizens sovereign rights in order to prevent a peaceful protest. Another example is David Petraeus, the director of the CIA who was forced to resign after the FBI uncovered emails indicating he was having an affair with his biographer. Again, this was a government agency abusing their access to private emails in matters that were not endangering the national safety, and this event led many to ask that “when the CIA director cannot hide his activities online, what hope is there for the rest of us?”

Governments aren’t all-powerful omniscient forces that should and can be trusted with this huge level of information and control that is gained through this sort of data collection. This level of information is something is easily corrupted and can have significant consequences if it is manipulated. It is entirely subjective how ‘national security’ is defined, and for many governments this will involve controlling ‘enemies of the state’ and political dissidents, rather than true threats to security. We’ve seen time and time again that this rhetoric of there being a ‘right’ to violate individual’s privacy in order to protect national security is baseless, and has merely been used to mask the true intentions of monitoring civilians.

In many instances, government’s have used this power to protect their own interests against troublesome individuals or dissidents, rather than in the interests of national security. Although we may trust the current government with this power, once it becomes enshrined in law and turns into a common practice, it will be near-impossible to prevent it if it is hijacked by a different government in the future for authoritarian aims or the like. Justice William O. Douglas summarised this argument when he said that “taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen – a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a person’s life”.

In conclusion, we cannot allow governments the right to arbitrarily access all of its citizens emails, texts, and other forms of electronic media under the veil of ‘National Security’. Sacrificing this privacy would be to revoke one of our basic and innate human rights, and would lead to a restriction on creative thinking and divergent political opinions. This form of surveillance has also never been proved to actually be effective in maintaining national security, as the real criminals opt for more underground methods, while law abiding citizens may be targeted for their beliefs or merely by the company they keep.

Finally, allowing this sort of omniscient right to the government is may lead to significant consequences in the future, especially if manipulated by leaders with ulterior motives. Privacy is one of our most sacred and inherent human rights, one that’s importance can only truly be realised when it is lost, and we must protect it from this sort of government spying and monitoring. Because, as Billy Graham said, “Once you’ve lost your privacy, you realize you’ve lost an extremely valuable thing”.


This week’s solitary reading focused on the ‘Actor-Network Theory’ (ANT), which is an approach to social theory and research, and is written by the man behind this theory, Bruno Latour.

I found the reading very heavy going, and got continuously bogged down by the specific terminology used and my apparent lack of understanding of this area.

After finishing the ten or so pages, and starting at my computer screen with a throbbing head, I started googling for information on this concept, and found this Youtube clip, aiming to summarise this theory:

This simple video helped me to get my head around what I was actually reading about previously, and worded it in a much more concise and relatable way.

From what I can gather, this is a social theory that treats this society as a complex network, one where anyone and anything can be an ‘actor’, not just humans. This is apparently the most controversial aspect of this theory, and Latour explains this by saying an ‘actor’ can “literally be anything provided it is granted to be the source of an action”.

So in these networks, people and other objects interact together to create these links and connections, further creating a larger and more interactive network. Early in the article, Latour identifies the troubles in using the term ‘network’, due to its numerous connotations, but he later states that his reasoning for using the word was because “it has no priori order relation; it is not tied to the axiological myth of a top and of a bottom of society”, making it an effective term to employ.

The central concept of the theory is that neither technological or social aspects or given any more privilege or weight, they are treated as equals. These offsets the arguments between technological determinism and social determinism that we saw in the last lecture, with the theory considering both of these concepts as flawed, and choosing to operate on a “socio-technical account”.

From what I can see, it seems like the Actor-Network Theory is sitting on the fence in terms of a social theory, but not necessarily in a bad way. It doesn’t choose to agree with either of technological or social determinism, but rather incorporates aspects of both of these concepts, and in a way, gets the best of both worlds, as well as including both human and non-human agents.

As the reading identifies, actors aren’t just singular objects, but rather are networks in themselves, as they are in reality made up of multiple other actors. For example, the laptop that I’m typing this post on is usually viewed as a single ‘actor’ or object: a laptop. But when you think about it, it is also made up of multiple actors working together: the keyboard, the screen, the technical parts that I don’t know the names of, and again, these parts are made up of other actors.

This theory extends this idea to social relations and networks, and I think can be applied to the online networks of the internet that we’ve been studying this whole semester.

Interpretive Dance And The Networked Internet

The networked nature of the Internet offers a wide range of opportunities to those that can effectively utilise, and this can be seen through viral video campaigns that generate huge amounts of publicity for companies or individuals.

This is seen through the recent video by writer Marina Shifrin, a journalist who recorded a video of her interpretive dancing while informing her boss that she was quitting her repressive job.

The video, uploaded on the 28th of September, has received well over 10 million fews in less than a week, and is much more than just a slam-piece against her former boss.

The video was recorded in the early hours of the morning, and includes captions detailing why Shifrin was quitting: “For almost two years I’ve sacrificed my relationships, time and energy for this job…and my boss only cares about quantity and how many views each video gets”, and “I QUIT”.

Although the video doesn’t include where Shifrin was employed, it was quickly revealed to be a Taiwanese company called Next Media Animation, detailing the powers of the networked Internet to reveal seemingly personal and private information.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Shifrin said that she received no lunch break and had her schedule and responsibilities constantly changed, leading her to create this video and leave her job in the greatest way possible.

This video is the example of how the networked internet can be harnessed to deliver publicity and wealths of opportunity for individuals. The video has every necessary element for it to go viral, and it has in an extreme way. It is expertly crafted, and has already resulted in countless news articles written about it.

The video has delivered Shifrin immense publicity, and the video, which has been viewed more than 10 million times, includes a link to her personal website, which in turns links to her resume.

The journalist has already received job offers via the social network of Twitter, and will no doubt receive a better and higher paying job as a result of this viral video.

If the networked nature of the internet and new media is utilised effectively and expertly, and with just the right amount of luck, it can deliver huge exposure and publicity that creates countless opportunities.

Marina Shifrin also wrote a brilliant and passionate blog entry about the ‘click-bait’ nature of modern-day journalism, and how it is still a very valuable and worthwhile profession if it is done right. It’s well worth a read.


Poetic Databases

This one was a struggle. Amongst the scientific mumbo-jumbo and seemingly made-up words (Integrationalism? Come on now) I was able to find a few parts that were relevant and informative for me.

Even the name is confusing and wordy: ‘Recombinant Poetics And Related Database Aesthetics’ by Bill Seaman.

It starts by (I think) describing how even apparently very technological and digital actions are still, at their basics, human activities, emphasising the “physicality of experience”. Database, which is described in detail in the other reading for this week, is derived through human activities such as shooting and editing footage, sculpting virtual objects, compositions, writing, and even something as simple as naming files.

The process of writing computer code is related to something like poetry, as Richard Hamilton and Ecke Bonk state:

The poetic of computers lies in the genius of individual programmers to express the beauty of their thought using such an inexorable medium.

At their roots, computing and digital activities are still very human.

As Seaman states, interpretation in these new forms of technology is open, ongoing, and constantly changing, and I particularly liked this quote from Umberto Eco:

A work of art is a complete and closed form in its uniqueness as a balanced organic whole, while at the same time constituting an open product on account of its susceptibility to countless different interpretations which do not impinge on unadulterable specificity. Hence every reception of a work of art is an interpretation and a performance of it, because in every reception the work takes on a fresh perspective for itself”

The other part of the reading that stood out for me was the discussion of Dada Poems, ones that are constructed from putting seemingly random parts together in a seemingly random sequence.

These poems can be created through cutting up a newspaper article, separating each words, placing them in a bag, shaking it all up, then taking each word out one at a time. If you then write these words down in the order that they are drawn, you will create a poem that will “resemble you and you will find yourself to be an infinitely original writer with a charming sensitivity”.

This details how from complete randomness can emerge complete meaning, even if it’s meaning specific to the individual, it will be re-interpreted by whoever’s reading it.

Here is an example of one of these Dada Poems:

This quote from Lewis Carroll sums it these ‘random poems’ brilliantly:

First learn to be spasmodic
A very simple rule.
For first you write a sentence,
And then you chop it small;
Then mix the bits and sort them out
Just as they chance to fall;
The order of the phrases makes
No difference at all.