11 Reading (for Week 12)

A speculative piece that comes from the point of view of art to close out the semester:

Dietz, Steve. “Ten Dreams of Technology.” Leonardo 35.5 (2002): 509–522. MIT Press Journals. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. (PDF)

Why art? Because artists know how to think about the materiality of the digital, that it isn’t just virtual and abstract, that it has concrete qualities that matter. Why does this matter to you? Because to ‘get’ the network it is not enough to play on it, or use it, but you need to understand it in a deeper sense.

Weird examples to help explain. Do you know of any racing car driver who doesn’t have a deep understanding of cars, engines, tyres, and of course driving – they don’t just drive. Do you know of any dancer that doesn’t have a deep understanding of different sprung floors, points, slippers, shoes, ankles, knees, their own bodies and muscles? Do you know any film maker who doesn’t have a deep understanding of composition, miss-en-scene, light, space, time, and performance? It is part of trying to move past thinking that doing something on the interwebs means we understand the interwebs. In the same way that just because you know how to drive a car doesn’t mean you ‘understand’ cars.

10 Reading (for Week 11)

Actor Network Theory (ANT) has been mentioned in passing a few times this semester so let’s get our hands dirty here. This is Bruno Latour outlining via a very influential new media/internet studies email list, what ANT is. It is dense, difficult, full on high French post humanities theory. So, if you can’t get through it, it is imperative, essential, heck even demanded of you, to read the first section which runs over the first three pages and ends with the line “In this sense ANT is a reductionist and relativist theory, but as I shall demonstrate this is the first necessary step towards an irreductionist and relationist ontology.”

required reading

Schultz, Pit. Latour, Bruno: On Actor Network Theory: A Few Clarifications 1/2. 11 Jan. 1998. E-mail. (PDF)

09 Reading (For Week 10)

We are moving away from networks to think about technical, aesthetic, computational sorts of things. About making content using computers that is computer specific (as opposed to using computers to do what we’ve always done). This week, two readings from the one anthology. This anthology is edited by Victoria Vesna, a media artist who is very interested in databases. The readings are from Lev Manovich, one of the most influential writers and makers in this area (he has recently been instrumental in establishing the new field of ‘software studies’), and Bill Seaman, an artist and theoretician interested in cognition, computing, and creative practice.


Manovich, Lev. “Database as Symbolic Form”. Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow. Vesna, Victoria, ed. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print. 39-60. (PDF)

This is what became a chapter in his seminal The Language of New Media and is about the relationship of narrative to database. The work is more refined later, but it being a bit less refined here is useful to see the ideas a bit rougher.

Extra (but very very useful in relation to the Manovich)

Seaman, Bill. “Recombinant Poetics and Related Database Aesthetics”. Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow. Vesna, Victoria, ed. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print. 121-140. (PDF)

A different take than what Manovich takes but the idea of a recombinatory practice is one of the foundations of networked experience and making. Nothing is fixed done in place or sequence in networked practice, and so it is always about recombinations of….

08 Reading (For Week 9)


Murphie, Andrew, and John Potts. Culture and Technology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print. This is the introduction from this book. Short, very general but lays out some important general ideas and terms. (PDF)

Galloway, Alexander R. Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization. The MIT Press, 2006. Print. (PDF). This could be experienced as dense. It is great work that combines critical theory, technology studies, technological understanding (Galloway knows how to do things with code and computers, as opposed to knowing how to do things on computers) to think about the significance of ‘protocol’ as a social and technological requirement online. I’ve set this reading because it brings together technical and philosophical understanding very well, as well as making some interesting points about something that is specific to the internet as a sociotechnical thing.


Murphie, Andrew, and John Potts. Culture and Technology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print. “Theoretical Frameworks” (PDF)

This is the first chapter which is a survey come overview of key theories to think about culture and technology and their relation. This covers a lot of material. Some of you will enjoy it for its range and the theorists and ideas it introduces, others will pick up bits and pieces and others perhaps a bit lost. This is straightforward writing (this book was a set text for this subject in 2006 or 2007) that I enjoy as it covers a lot of ideas, contextualising them very well in the process.

07 Reading (for week 8)

All of this week’s readings come from the one source, network scientist Laszlo Barabasi. The thread here continues the last lot of readings as we learn about loose ties, small world scale free networks, and the power law distribution. This is science about the ‘network’ in general, and the ‘laws’ or rules described I believe apply all the way from an individual hypertextual work (including the video works you are likely to make next year), through to a network like Facebook, and the Web in general. In other words the ideas and principals described here work at different structural levels.

Key Readings

Barabási, Albert-László. “The 80/20 Rule”. Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. New York, NY: A plume book, 2003. Print. (PDF)

Barabási, Albert-László. “Rich Get Richer”. Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. New York, NY: A plume book, 2003. Print. (PDF)

Optional Reading

This is from earlier parts of the same book. Back story if you’re interested.

Barabási, Albert-László. Extracts Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. New York, NY: A plume book, 2003. Print. (PDF)

06 Reading (for week 7)

The structure so far has been to begin with things on education and learning. This was because a) we want to try to do some things differently so needed some context as to why, b) the easiest and most effective way to provide you with the experience of disruption is to disrupt what you have been taught to take for granted. (We want to give you the experience of disruption for two reasons. The first is that a lot of learning happens when things that we take for granted are ‘made strange’ or unfamiliar, it is a way to make visible our assumptions and values. The over is that the internet is a disruptive technology in relation to heritage (industrial, pre-internet) media, and I want you to learn that the internet is both exciting but also in many ways eroding, the very industries you aspire to.

Then we moved to design fiction. This was a way to move from learning as saying what I already know to learning as being an investigation of what might be, including what I don’t yet know. Learning as a casting forward rather than a relying back to what I have already learned. Design fiction is also a very useful concept in relation to ways of engaging with change, technology, and the social. Sort of big ticket items for the network.

Then we have begun some pre-internet readings (Bush, Nelson). In both cases there is a utopian vision of technology that wants it to augment intelligence. This is a big deal. In the west, for example, the ‘robot’ tends to be always bad (it’s hard to find a film in the west where a robot is not actually going to kill us), and this in many quite real ways has hindered ideas and development (in the east there is a very different view, for example something as simple as Astro Boy shows a completely different view of robots, they have rights, they help, and it is generally only evil people who mistreat robots). So, computers could have gone the same way, always about to miscalculate and send the plane into the mountain, turning the car’s brakes off when you want them on, and your finance’s always at risk of a computer glitch. We trust computers, well, enough to let them fly our planes, manage our financial flows, and do a huge amount of diagnostic work in medicine. Hence Bush and Nelson matter because here you can see an approach that believed every person should have a computer because it would augment your ability to know and do. In 1970 (Nelson) this is an extraordinary vision, and one that is deeply grounded in the belief that intelligence, learning and making knowledge are the foundations of the human.

This segue into hypertext proper. Why. Lots of reasons. Hypertext existed before the Web, and so largely prefigures what the web is beginning to become (there are things I can do in a 1995 hypertext program, simple things, that the Web still cannot do). Hypertext theory, which comes out of the humanities and so is our province, has a lot to say about the ways in which digital media asks different questions for us about what an author is, a reader, and a text. So in hypertext we find the first real questioning, in sophisticated ways, of these things. In the same way hypertext has (still) most of the best ideas around multilinearity in relation to narrative, including not only what happens to stories in multilinear environments, but also how to go about making them. This is not a technical problem of software (that would be like thinking learning how to write a good essay is about learning how to make ink and paper), but about the problem of voice and structure. These readings will also matter in second year, because there we make hypertextual video works, but even though it is visible, the principals are exactly the same (and understood much better by the hypertext community than by the interactive video mob).

Finally, hypertext, as the idea of text made up of small chunks with different, multiple, possible connections between them, even though it describes possibly a single work, also describes the structure of the Web. This is Weinberger’s ‘small pieces loosely joined’, where he’s not talking about hypertext at all. In other words hypertext is a great model for thinking about the deep structure of the Web more broadly. So it’s a great place from which to begin.

Which brings us to this week, and probably next. These readings are about the network as a particular sort of structure. For me, this is a small step from hypertext, it is still about small more or less independent parts (a blog post, a node in a hypertext fiction), which now happen to be people, and about how they are connected to each other. The ideas here, the principals, are exactly the same that hypertext (and Ted Nelson) rely on and argue for. It is about many to many and one to many relations, and what sorts of ‘patterns’ then happen in such systems, and more importantly the consequences of these patterns. It is why there can be memes, things go viral (diseases, ideas, and YouTube clips) and why social media is possible. Remember, it is the same sort of ‘pattern’ that hypertext described.

So the readings are making a shape and a trajectory across an idea of what the network is. Generally the intent of it is to help us, it requires imagination, it is made up of loose small bits with lots of ways to connect, and disconnect, them, whether this be people, pages, likes, blogs, or tweets.

Networked Structures and Consequences

There will be some more reading from Watts, but for now this is just the introduction to this very readable book. As an introduction it doesn’t provide that many answers, but it has a great set of questions and problems and why they might matter. This is a book largely dedicated to the problem of how things move through networks, whether that be disease, information, or people. Turns out they all move in much the same way.
Watts, Duncan J. Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. London: Vintage, 2003. Print. (Extract, PDF)

Chris Anderson wrote an entire book about this. This though is an earlier article, same idea, just smaller. In this he is describing what Watt’s describes as a ‘power law distribution’, which it turns out is one of the characteristics of the sort of network that the Web is. While Watt’s discusses this in a variety of theoretical and sociological ways (he’s a sociologist who did his PhD with a mathematician) Anderson, in typical North American Silicon Valley joy, goes straight to the marketing come financial implications. It is, though, a key point, and is one of the reasons why blogs a) have a staggeringly large readership, and b) why a blog with only a few readers still matters.

Anderson, Chris. “The Long Tail.” Wired. Oct. 2004. Web. 23 Aug. 2013. (PDF)

05 Readings (to be read for Week 6)

The recent trajectory of the readings has been design fiction, partly to seed some other ways to go about making works that use evidence, and partly to relax the ways we might choose to judge what counts as ‘real’. Then the Bush and Nelson as precursors to the World Wide Web that have design fiction qualities about them, but which have also been very influential in themselves in how technologists have thought about the purpose of the machinery they were making. If you like these were ‘fictions’ that directly informed the design of the Web. From here we entered more specific hypertext theory. This is because a) hypertext is a networked writing structure, b) it predates the World Wide Web, c) many of its ideas, practical and theoretical, provide an excellent way to approach how to theorise the Web not as technologists but as people who want to be able to narrate things (us). This next lot of readings continues this, making some of the hypertextual things around narrative (shape or structure, and reading) more visible – I’ve skipped the material about what it is to write in this way, so that hypertext’s relation to what I’ll characterise as our ‘normal’ understanding of story can be more strange. If you like it is a way to help show the point of hypertext and the differences to what came before.

So, this weeks reading, are then about narrative structure and reading.

Key Readings for the Week

Extracts from Landow, George. Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Print. (PDF)

This is the easiest read of this weeks lot, and they are all quite difficult (I’m still sick, and if I’m able I’m going to try to dig out an old book from last century that is an introductory reader in this area – Ilana Snyder’s Hypertext: The Electronic Labyrinth.)

Extract from Douglas, J. Yellowlees. The End of Books — Or Books Without End?: Reading Interactive Narratives. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print. (PDF)

Optional Extras

Marie-Laure Ryan is one of the more prolific writers on interactive literature, fiction, and so on. She has a narratology background so the work is very strongly informed by those areas of literary theory that concentrate on narrative. This is really good work, and worthwhile if only to skim to see her maps of different narrative structures.

Extract from Ryan, Marie-Laure. Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Open WorldCat. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. (PDF)

Finally, if the Douglas tweaked your interest and you’re a lit orientated student, then the next chapter is worth a read too:

Extract from Douglas, J. Yellowlees. The End of Books — Or Books Without End?: Reading Interactive Narratives. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print. (PDF)

04 Readings (to be read for week 5)

The last set of readings were speculative writing that are some of the most important writings for the ‘prehistory’ of the World Wide Web. Why? Well, prior to the Web we have hypertext (for example I was writing using hypertext software before the World Wide Web was created). One of the very interesting (and unusual) things about hypertext is that there has always been a very strong interdisciplinary cross over between the computer scientists who write the hypertext software, and humanities scholars who used it – and in many cases these were the same people (the programmers were also humanities scholars). So hypertext has an unusual mix of computer science and humanities theory. This means the thinking about hypertext was speculative, which became real things, that were in turn informed by recent theories in philosophy and critical studies, an exciting mix. As a result these programmers knew Ted Nelson’s work, and Bush’s idea of the ‘memex’, and so wanted to build tools that helped develop our ability to think, argue, make.

Hypertext then became a sort of intellectual techno–computer vanguard of radical thinking. Finally, Tim Berners–Lee, who wrote the first Web protocols (so the first version of HTML and HTTP), was familiar with this work too. And so the Web, when it was born, was not just a technical specification about sharing documents but had built deep in its very DNA a culture of making, sharing, distributed knowledge, and acentred knowledge creation. Not because Berners-Lee was a scientist who worked at a particle physics laboratory, but because the work he read about hypertext also had, in it, this humanist inspired centre.

So, this work on hypertext, which originally appeared before the Web, are the children of Bush and Nelson (last week’s reading), and deeply informed the humanities side of the World Wide Web when it was first written. This part of the Web’s history is important as it is Nelson’s deep vision that has ensured that the Web is technically open (it is what we call a stateless protocol) and so has made it so very effective in being adopted, used, and then changing so many things so dramatically.

Hypertext, the First Blush

Landow, George. Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Print. (extracts, PDF)

Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale (N.J.): Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991. Print. (extract, PDF)

Optional (for variety) though HIGHLY Recommended

This is a very easy read that is an elegant summary of the history of the essay and how it has been, well, butchered, through its tortured entry and standardisation in English curricula. Think of it as a counter (alternative) history of the essay and a way to help give you permission to write differently. In your blogs, niki, and so on.

Graham, Paul. “The Age of the Essay.” Paul Graham. Sept. 2004. Web. 11 Aug. 2013. (PDF)


The original and possibly hypertext fiction was not web based, and we once had copies that could be read via our network, but things have fallen into disrepair on that front for now. So, here’s a couple of selections of hypertextual work:

Geoff Ryman’s early “253”. This is an early web specific hypertext, pretty simple conceit where it is set on a train on London’s Tube. Another early one (1996) from the ‘grandfather’ of hypertext fiction, Michael Joyce, this is web based and called “12 Blue“. And, then, to change track dramatically, a couple of interactive movies that uses the same ideas and principles as hypertext (we make these in second year): Matt Soar’s Ceci N’est Pas Embres, and Nicole Robicheau’s The Border Between Us, only because it is just about a bloody odd story and uses sound more than vision.

A Speculative Documentary

By way of example of how design fiction might work. Peter Watkin’s 1965 documentary The War Game. This is what I would also call a design fiction, or speculative making. It was not shown on BBC television until 1985, as it was thought too horrifying for broadcast, even though all it does is play out the possible consequences of a nuclear strike upon Britain. It does so in the way that design fiction advocates. It isn’t fiction (the film is a documentary), but by using argument, reason, and rationality. All it does it think with the consequences and the implications of these as a very reasonable and logical ‘what if’ and ‘therefore’. It is, genuinely, horrifying without being scary. And yes, it is now on YouTube – The War Game (1965 – dir. Peter Watkins).

03 Readings (which means they ‘live’ in week 4)

A mixed bag.

Two important speculative pieces, both imagining in different ways the future. Both have been enormously influential. The Vannevar Bush essay influenced many original technologists, including Ted Nelson and the inestimable Douglas Englebart, and helped establish the vision of computers as machines to help and augment intelligence and human capacity.


Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic July 1945. The Atlantic. Web. 19 July 2013. (PDF)

Nelson, Theodor Holm. Literary Machines 91.1: The Report on, and of, Project Xanadu Concerning Word Processing, Electronic Publishing, Hypertext, Thinkertoys, Tomorrow’s Intellectual Revolution, And Certain Other Topics Including Knowledge, Education and Freedom. Sausalito: Mindful Press, 1992. Print. (Apologies for the strange scan, the scanner freaked out a bit – PDF)

Now, nearly

David Weinberger is a popular tech writer, making a living as a sort of tech journalist come populariser of ways to think about what it all means. This book is now dated, to some extent (the pace of development online in relation to pre internet technology is treated as a dog year, so 1 year = 7 years of development and change online), but the deeper principles he describes remain, and go to the heart of what the ‘network’ might be.

Weinberger, David. Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web. New York: Perseus Books, 2002. Print. (PDF)