Archive for the ‘myth and metaphor’ Category

Performance Art: Subversion, Activism and GPS

Friday, November 14th, 2008

From a student in our Intro to GIS course:

In 2007 three artists living in the country of Slovenia officially changed their name to Janez Janša. Janez Janša is the name of the country’s Prime Minister, a right wing politician who is hostile towards any opposition. On January 28th 2008, the group performed Signature Event Context’s as part of transmediale 08, a Berlin festival that focuses on the digital arts. The performance took place at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. During the event, each of the artists was equipped with a GPS device, and walked through the memorial while repeating the mantra “Jaz sem Janez Janša, Jaz sem Janez Janša, Jaz sem Janez Janša…” (My name is Janez Janša”).

The performance is available online. Since it would be hard to decipher the movements live, video on the webpage offers a planimetric view of the event. First, it locates the site with a “polygon of action” that is supplemented with longitude and latitude locations. With the aid of video cameras, GPS receivers, and Google Earth we can trace the artists’ paths through the memorial. Each artists’ path is highlighted in green. The final result is a signature, the trace of the creators, the name “Janez Janša”.

The title of the event comes from Jacques Derrida’s essay “Signature Event Context.” The group posts this quote on their website to explain their performance:

By definition, a written signature implies the actual or empirical nonpresence of the signer. But, it will be said, it also marks and retains his having-been present in a past now, which will remain a future now, and therefore in a now, in general, in the transcendental form of nowness (maintenance). This general maintenance is somehow inscribed, stapled to the present punctuality, always evident and always singular, in the form of the signature. This is the enigmatic originality of every paraph. For the attachment to the source to occur, the absolute singularity of an event of the signature and of a form of the signature must be retained: the pure reproducibility of a pure event.(Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context” in Margins of Philosophy, tr. Alan Bass, pp. 307-330)

The group claims that the memorial event puts together three concepts (signature, event and context), which “re-contextualizes the site of signature.”

In relation to their name change and the site of the performance, the meaning of the event is complex. Memorials are supposed to engage each individual in the act of remembering. What happens when three artists collectively sign their name at such a significant place? How and where is the original Janez Janša implied? What meaning are Internet viewers supposed to draw? Our own interpretation of the work is mediated by technology. Antonio Caronia notes that in this case, technology has the semiotic function, because the realization of the concept of identity (the signature) is closely related to the virtual world. In effect, the performance of the three Janez Janšas “places in doubt the basis of everyone’s social and individual identity and wants to deeply investigate on the social conventions that constitute and decode it, aiming at unearthing those processes which lie on the border between mind and society.”

slaves of our (geospatial) media

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

(An excellent post written by Intro to GIS student, N. E.)

Questions of how one must classify geographic information systems (GIS) have received much attention in the years since GIS’s development. While it is most often a debate between calling GIS a science or a tool, geographers Daniel Z. Sui and Michael F. Goodchild suggest that neither of these options properly convey the relationship between GIS and society. In their essay “A tetradic analysis of GIS and society using McLuhan’s law of the media,” they describe GIS as a means of communication, the new mass media (Sui and Goodchild 2003, 7). Throughout their essay, GIS is presented with skepticism. Sui and Goodchild emphasize the abuse of GIS by companies and governments, drawing on the problem of privacy within GIS. However, they likewise address the fact that the social implications of GIS are neither exclusively positive nor negative.

To focus only on the consequences is to miss the point. Therefore, to explore the relationship between GIS and society, Sui and Goodchild (Ibid., 10-12) evoke 20th Century media analyst, Marshal McLuhan. McLuhan’s law of media is founded on four questions that they apply to GIS:

  1. What does GIS enhance?
  2. What does GIS make obsolete?
  3. What does GIS retrieve?
  4. What does GIS reverse into?

Sui and Goodchild answer these questions. First, they propose that our human faculties are enhanced by GIS. Through the use of remote sensing and aerial photography, our eyes are enhanced. Likewise, our brains are enhanced through the various spatial analysis and modeling applications of GIS. The accessibility of geographic information is enhanced. By extension, the place of GIS in society is enhanced.

These extensions are met by consequences. To the second question, “[GIS] also simultaneously make obsolete … various social practices and human faculties” (Ibid., 10). In the case of GIS, the art of traditional cartography and firsthand data collection are becoming increasingly obsolete as a result of the fast advance of GIS (Ibid., 11). In the face of this loss, GIS retrieves long lost social practices (the third question). For example, with GIS has come a return to a kind of oral culture that faded with the invention of the printing press.

Finally, implicit to GIS is a kind of reversal. Whereas GIS began as a an extension of people, soon people become a sort of extension of GIS (Ibid., 12). Environments are shifted to fit GIS, rather than further developing GIS to fit diverse environments. Furthermore, this role reversal of GIS and its environment create a kind of hierarchy between the individual and the system. The implications of this hierarchy are the loss of personal privacy with the struggle to improve the system and data collection. Thus, “we become slaves to our media” (Ibid.). Through these four areas of analysis Sui and Goodchild express the importance of viewing GIS in a holistic manner.

This notion of GIS as media continues to gain relevance. The increase in online geospatial databases, search engines such as Pipl and Wink, and social networking sites such as Facebook make it increasingly easy to find geospatial information of individuals. With these kinds of technology, tracking down an old friend takes a few minutes. The problem becomes whether it is morally right for these search engines to communicate the information of individuals. Zabasearch, a people search engine, provides both listed and unlisted telephone numbers (Ibid.). In this way, a sense of agency is removed from the individual for the sake of an accurate and convenient system. Sui and Goodchild summarize this idea nicely by stating that: we are “more concerned with what GIS does for us rather than to us” (Sui and Goodchild 2003, 14). It is important to acknowledge both the benefits of GIS and the consequences and attempt to fully recognize the social implications of GIS.

Daniel Z. Sui; Michael F. Goodchild, 2003 “A tetradic analysis of GIS and society using McLuhan’s law of the media” Canadian Geographer 47, 1: 5-17. The article is worth reading in full. It discusses the role of GIS as a mass media in much greater depth and raises interesting connections between McLuhan’s theories and GIS.

Gina Trapani. 2007, “How to track down anyone online” This post gave me insight into the roles of new search engines to disclose geospatial information about individuals without their knowledge or consent.

Nicholas Carr’s “The social graft” Another post I found quite interesting in regards to the functions of GIS and its implications on privacy.

you’re so chic in that Garmin

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

Who knew that GPS units could be a fashion statement?

Related: Challenges for Garmin

an inconvenient victim

Monday, March 12th, 2007

The NYTimes reports that, perhaps as a result of successful movies like An Inconvenient Truth, a spate of movies are coming out in which The Earth is a victim. In some of them, The Environment gets to take its revenge. The Environment is even showing up to confront cartoon characters.

In “Transformers,” which DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures are scheduled to release on July 4, robot warriors escape a planet laid waste by civil war, only to arrive on Earth as it faces similar devastation. Mr. Orci added that he had seen a number of development projects recently in which the monster was created by environmental change.

natural commons meets creative commons

Friday, October 27th, 2006

David Bollier asks: “can we have an environmentalism for the net without also pursuing an environmentalism for the environment?” Or more basically, is there a common usage of the term and assumptions around “the commons”? How transferrable is that concept?

Those of us who study the commons realize that there is a big distinction between information commons and natural resource commons. The former are generally non-depletable and increase in value as more people use them, while the latter can be “used up” and abused. And so we have settled into a discourse that regards these two classes of commons as entirely separate beasts. We cheer the rise of commons-based peer production in free software, Wikipedia and Flickr. But when it comes to the shared gifts of land, water, air and genes, many “online commoners” are more sanguine about letting the “free market” and corporate America manage things as they see fit.

He points out that we become so enthralled with the net, the “New Paradigm commons,” that we lose sight of the “depressingly familiar “Old Paradigm” corporate behavior.” Read the thought piece because it reminds us that in our search for the new online environmentalist tool, wiki or google bomb we can forget that our computers are creating mountains of toxic trash.

online advertising in an online world

Friday, October 20th, 2006

See advertising in and buy virtual or real products on an online MMORPG (massively multiplayer role-playing game). That is, see the Adidas ads in Second Life and buy the Adidas shoes for your avatar. Oh, and buy a pair in the real world too. The physical world of advertising meets online games.

The sudden rush of real companies into so-called virtual worlds mirrors the evolution of the Internet itself, which moved beyond an educational and research network in the 1990’s to become a commercial proposition — but not without complaints from some quarters that the medium’s purity would be lost.

The medium’s purity?? Advertising is an instance of the real world?? This article drips with unacknowledged irony.

I’m waiting for Sony ads in World of Warcraft.

Also, this caught my eye, the fear of competition from large, well-financed corporations:

In her second life, Ms. Fitzpatrick’s digital alter-ego is a figure well-known to other participants called Prokofy Neva, who runs a business renting “real estate” to other players. “The next phase,” she said, “will be they try to compete with other domestic products — the people who made sneakers in the [SeondLife] world are now in danger of being crushed by Adidas.”

Perhaps she’s in danger of competition from ReMax or Century 21. ;-)

Sometimes there’s even activism in the digital realm.

Some corporate events have been met with protests by placard-waving avatars. And there is even a group called the Second Life Liberation Army that has staged faux “attacks” on Reebok and American Apparel stores. (The S.L.L.A. says it is fighting for voting rights for avatars…)

Perhaps this will remind people to vote in the physical world as well? There is always hope that, in addition to commercial activity, some of the virtual world can seep into the real world.

can’t visit parks; too busy websurfing

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

First saw this in the New Scientist: “Video games, surfing the web and high gas prices can explain a dramatic fall in the number of visitors to US National Parks.”

This finding comes from an article in the The Journal of Environmental Management by Oliver Pergams and Patricia Zaradic (in press), “Is love of nature in the US becoming love of electronic media? 16-year downtrend in national park visits explained by watching movies, playing video games, internet use, and oil prices”. (BTW, that’s the most descriptive title I’ve ever seen in a journal.)

Aside from the troubling implications (why actually see the park when you can visit it online!), the article contains a nicely straightforward analysis of data. Comparing annual number of park visits to a variety of annual cumulative or average numbers, the authors found significant correlations in the decline of park visits to the average number of hours per year of television watched, video games played, home movies watched, theatre movies watched, and Internet used. The decline in park visits also correlates with the rise in the absolute price of gasoline. The drop was measured from 1987 to 2002, so it’s not reflective of the spike (in real dollars) of gasoline that we’ve experienced this year.

The authors mention that these factors also track the growing sedentary lifestyle in North America since in-home entertainment doesn’t require so much physical activity (except for the muscles in one’s hand, of course). This and the price of gas will continue to contribute to a decline in the number of park visits.

For those of you with children, heed the following from the article (p. 1): “It has been found important that people be exposed to natural areas as children if they are to care about them as adults.” If you want your children to connect with nature, start taking them to national and regional parks NOW.

Update: Of course, the National Park Service might very well elevate the number of park visits by accommodating the electronically abled.

changing the meaning of “accuracy”?

Thursday, February 9th, 2006

Amid several recent debates as to the accuracy of handy online reference tool Wikipedia, an inquiry has been launched (by wikipedia) into the editing and or polishing of biographical entries, coming from capitol hill IP adresses. – article by BBC here. Wikipedia questions whether or not it is ethical for individuals to edit (or have an employee edit) articles that they may have a vested interest in. However, many of the senators involved argued that they were correcting inaccuracies. This leads to the question, what is really accurate? If anyone can be an editor on the internet, one of the web’s most valuable aspects, who is capable for upholding some sort of truth or accuracy? Is this sense of false accuracy even unique to the internet?

investigative journalism

Monday, December 19th, 2005

The term ‘investigative journalism’ shouldn’t leave the onus on the journalist… here, you, the reader, can now spend 2 exciting hours reading this fire-fight over “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and its treatment of global warming, overpopulation, energy, deforestation, species loss, water shortages, et al., starring Prof. Lomberg himself and 4 high-profile Scientists.

Be sure to click all of the links in sequence.
Skepticism toward The Skeptical Environmentalist

Creationist assault on museums

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

Science museums and other natural science institutions are now training their staff and volunteers to cope with challenges to the theory of evolution that are increasingly common and occasionally downright aggressive.

One company, called B.C. Tours “because we are biblically correct,” even offers escorted visits to the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. Participants hear creationists’ explanations for the exhibitions.

One of these groups might be 30 or 40 people strong. (So now creationists travel in packs?)

Obviously, if they pay to go in, creationists have every right to experience the museum as well as ask staff tough questions. But not questions that, according to the article, have become openly hostile and belligerent.

They peppered Dr. Durkee [of the Museum of the Earth, Ithaca, NY] with questions about everything from techniques for dating fossils to the second law of thermodynamics, their queries coming so thick and fast that she found it hard to reply.

After about 45 minutes, “I told them I needed to take a break,” she recalled. “My mouth was dry.”

Staff have been told to explain to museum goers that evolution (or geology or natural science) exists in the realm of science and therefore responds to questions that can be empirically tested (also that, contrary to belief, there isn’t loads of evidence countering evolution). The training allows staff to rehearse answers to common questions. It can make staff comfortable, not just with the script, but also with the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings of evolution. The training also underscores that there are thinking creationists who will appreciate the explanations even if they remain unconvinced.

If all that fails then staff should simply “excuse themselves by saying, “I have to go to the restroom.”"

Exploiting uncertainty

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005

As scientists, we are comfortable with uncertainty. We live in a paradigm of very few laws, in which research is structured by hypotheses that can be tested, debated and even falsified. Consensus–scientific truth–emerges from questioning. However, a coalition of pro-business conservatives and religious conservatives are casting doubt on the very validity of science by exploiting the paradigm of science. This is never better explained than in the new book by Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science.

In an excellent but scary review of the book, the reviewer sketches out the plan revealed by Mooney.

Using methods and strategies pioneered under the Reagan administration by the tobacco industry and anti-environmental forces, an alliance of social conservatives and corporate advocates has paralyzed or obfuscated public discussion of science on a whole range of issues. Not just climate change but also stem cell research, evolutionary biology, endangered-species protection, diet and obesity, abortion and contraception, and the effects of environmental toxins have all become arenas of systematic and deliberate bewilderment.

And towards the end of the article, the result:

By turning science into an endlessly fudgeable tool of politics, and rejecting any notion of scientific consensus in favor of a landscape where all science is either liberal (“junk”) or conservative (“sound”), the American right has fulfilled the darkest prognoses of postmodern philosophy. In this view, science is indeed just an artifact of culture; it has no more objectivity than astrology or dowsing or medieval Catholic theology.

I encourage you to read the review and then buy the book. It’s the scary world we’re now in.

March of the Penguins or March of the Conservatives?

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

Just saw the March of the Penguins, an excellent documentary about emperor penguins in Antarctica and a testament to the filmmakers who had to endure the harsh climate to shoot the film.

Now news that US conservatives are hailing the film as a crowning testament to family values. No longer the Passion of the Christ but the Passion of the Penguins. Some churches are taking busloads of parishioners to see the movie.

According to the religious and other conservatives interviewed for the article, the film is anti-abortion, pro-family, and pro-monogamy. The ingenuity of penguin breeding is seen as a validation for intelligent design. The film is also light on science. The filmmakers intentionally play down topics such as evolution and global warming in the hopes of broadening the audience.

Certainly the film turns penguin behaviour into the saga of the nuclear family. The film lingers on any moment that appears be actions of a loving couple and parents. The filmmakers are almost apologetic or breezy about activities that disagree with that premise, such as the fact that the penguins are serially monogamous and only mate for a year. The male penguin may nearly starve while he’s caring for the child; however, before he starves to death, he will abandon the child to freeze to death. Moreover, when the father does leave, he abandons both the mother and child. Also, penguin behaviour certainly argues AGAINST one of the tenets of the conservative family, that the female has the sole child rearing responsibility. With emperor penguins, there’s no mother – stays – at – home – takes – care – of – the – kids – while – the – father – provides – for – the – family. The father is as maternal as the mother. Finally, while the child is still young, the mother also abandons the child and never looks back.

Indeed, I thought the film was an excellent counter argument to intelligent design. What godly designer would create an animal as inefficient as the emperor penguin, who has to abandon his/her baby and traverse miles of ice in horrific conditions in order to feed itself? (Unfortunately, the article points out that this inefficiency is the same argument used by intelligent design advocates to bolster their case that this film does indeed affirm intelligent design.)

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. I guess that truth is even stranger than the documentary.

Update: this is the best counter-argument to intelligent design that I have found.

Extreme Ironing

Friday, July 15th, 2005

As you may or may not be aware, a new sport, Extreme Ironing, is taking the world by storm. Combining the extreme sports movement with the domestic pleasures of performing laundry, the aesthetic appeal of freshly ironed shirts in the great outdoors is not to be denied.

Extreme Ironing was started in Leicester, England, in 1999. The first Extreme Ironing World Championships were held in 2002 in Germany, involving 3 countries and 5 teams. Since then, Extreme Ironing has picked up a sponsor (appliance maker Rowenta), been mentioned in a wide swath of media (the BBC in particular has some good photos) , and has had a documentary made on it by Channel 4 in Britain, a review by Time Out quoted in Wikipedia seems positive:

There is a near-tearful moment as Steam, the Brit captain, struggling with his ironing-board in the middle of a fast-flowing river breaks into a verse of God Save the Queen to rally the troops. Any other sport and you would have said he holds the hopes of a nation in his hand. Here you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Wikipedia has a more in-depth history of the sport.

Indeed, Extreme Ironing’s burgeoning popularity has caused some growing pains, including an offshoot Urban Housework which includes vacuuming dirt outdoors, an activity which has raised tensions along both sides of the divide, with some accusing urban housework of being un-environmentally friendly (although as mentioned on wikipedia, UH devotees point out that the vacuum is eventually emptied).

Computer mediated creationism

Thursday, May 26th, 2005


G. Thomas Sharp with Albertosaurus Photo
© Blue Channel Media, LLC,
courtesy Museum of Earth History

The Museum of Earth History is the newest entry into the normalization of creation science. The well-funded museum brings to creationism modern techniques of museumology and computer mediated communication. It certainly is popular. The museum, which open last month in Eureka, Arkansas has already seen thousands of visitors. An adjacent area, The Great Passion Play, has seen 7.5 million visitors.

The museum forms part of a Bible-based theme park in Eureka Springs. The parking lot is full of cars and coaches from all over the country. To enter the museum is to explore a surrealistic parallel world. Biblical quotes appear on displays. The first has dinosaurs, alongside Adam and Eve, living in harmony. The ferociously fanged T. rex is likely to be a vegetarian. Then comes the “Fall of Man” and an ugly world where dinosaurs prey on one another and the first extinctions occur. The destruction of the dinosaurs is explained, not by a comet striking the Earth 65 million years ago, but by the Flood. This, the museum says, wiped out most of the dinosaurs still alive and created the Grand Canyon and huge layers of sedimentary rock seen around the world.

Some dinosaurs survived on Noah’s Ark. One poster explains that Noah would have chosen juvenile dinosaurs to save space. An illustration shows two green sauropods in the ark alongside more conventional elephants and lions. The final exhibit depicts the Ice Age, where the last dinosaurs existed with woolly mammoths until the cold and hunting by cavemen caused them to die out.

MOEH has a very professional web site. If I didn’t know what the museum offered, the picture of the T. rex on the home page would suggest a museum of natural history. The computer mediated communication offered on the site is on par with other museums. Check out this movie that describes (or rather poses the question) how 1000 years of natural phenomenon could be created in one day.

Unfortunately, the novelty of the blending of science and creationism receives great play in the mainstream media, for example here and here. Even our modest blog is participating in the diffusion of information. That adds to the normalization of creation science. This paragraph perfectly captures the leading edge of normalization:

That wellspring of popular belief [that 45 percent of Americans believe the Earth was created by God within the past 10,000 years], and the political clout that comes with it, are the inspiration behind the museum. It is not interested in debating with mainstream science. It simply wants to represent the view of a significant slice of America. “We want people to see that finally they have something that addresses their beliefs, to show that we do have a voice,” said Thomas Sharp, business director of Creation Truth, the religious group that co-founded the museum.

As the ideas blend into the mainstream, you don’t need to debate science. Just present an alternate view. Because isn’t that what an egalitarian science is all about? Accepting alternative hypotheses? (As long as they can be tested, of course. But if you also can create your own methodologies then you can confirm your hypotheses.)

Short-lived praise for Canada

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

Contrast the previous post with this on the predominant myth of Canada, that it’s morally superior when it comes to the environment, politics, etc. The shine is off.

Christian first-person shooter

Sunday, May 1st, 2005

NYTimes writes on the drive to create a Christian gaming market.

The Rev. Ralph Bagley is on a very 21st-century sort of mission: introducing the word of God into what he calls the ”dark Satanic arena” of the video-game business. But he has an old-fashioned calling to back it up. ”I’ve always just loved video games,” he says. ”I was one of the guys playing Pong. When I became a Christian in 1992, I still wanted to play, but it was hard when the best-quality games out there were Doom, Quake — Satanic stuff, you know? Stuff that if I went to church on Sunday and came home and wanted to play a video game, I kind of felt a little bit guilty about it. I tried to find other games out there that were Christian, and there were none. Absolutely nothing. I’m the kind of guy that when I see something that’s not being done, I want to do it myself.”

Can Tim LeHay’s Left Behind series become the next successful console game?

“Don’t be Evil” Corporate Culture

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

From the Globe and Mail, in a bit of Canadian understatement:

Google Inc., Silicon Valley’s latest garage-to-riches story, is metamorphosing before our collective eyes into the single most important company on the planet, if it hasn’t claimed that title already.

But what strikes me—and this is from the slashdot entry that alerted me to the Globe and Mail article–is the corporate ethos of Google:

“If Sergey and Larry stick to their corporate mantra — Don’t be evil — and are able to stem degeneration into the typically corrupt corporate ethos, who knows, they may just succeed in assuming the fair and honourable dominion over the world’s information they so naively set out to achieve eight years ago in their garage.”"

Is there something inherently good about Internet companies because they increase the accessibility of information? Will the success of Google over its new rival, Microsoft, be the success of good corporate culture over presumably evil corporate culture?

a lack of computers?

Monday, April 11th, 2005

There is a movie out now called “Genesis”. Maybe you have already seen it, or perhaps have seen “Microcosmos” by the same people? I haven’t seen it yet, but from what I understand it is a movie that looks at the creating of the Earth and life on Earth from the view of someone that has had very limited exposure to computers or any type of modern technology that we consider to part of our every day life.

the film is apparently (I haven’t seen it yet) narrated by an African elder and storyteller. He used myths and fables to explain his version of the story of “time, matter, birth and death.” I will be interested to see this and I wonder if his version is similar to that of the scientific world – the one that has been made possible to fathom and grasp only with the aide of technology!?!?

As a side note, when I was in Kenya, we spent about five days in an extremely rural village where people were living in mud huts (not that this is unusual) and sharing beds with goats, but had still learned about, and acquired, email addresses!

The movie is playing now at AMC.

Religion and GIS

Saturday, April 9th, 2005

Very elegant use of geographic information systems for reporting on religion:

A Century of Catholic Conclaves

God and the Chip

Sunday, March 27th, 2005

This short phrase from a NYTimes magazine article on The Soul of the Exurb demonstrates the integration of computers and religion.

Rick Warren, the leader of one of the largest churches in the US and the writer of the book that outsold the bible (”The Purpose-Driven Life”)… “describes his purpose-driven formula as an Intel chip that can be inserted into the metaphorical motherboard of any church.”

How much have computers pervaded our lives that they can even be used to describe one of the strongest phenomena in North America, the rise of the megachurch (attendees>2,000)? It also explains the “plug and play” nature of our lives, something the article captures beautifully, that ideologies can be effortlessly inserted into or removed from religion. You don’t like the guilt trip? Enter the feel-good arena. Feel alienated by a numbing suburb in which you cannot and do not wish to put down roots? Try the megachurch with its relatively secular community services. It takes all the work out of greater spiritual understanding and out of community–that is the physical community–building.

Read the whole article. In addition to a description of our lives, it’s a great sociological study, particularly the emergence of the church as the public sphere (minus the dissent, of course).