Category Archives: technology

Bernard Stiegler [video] – Digital Studies as an organology of the mind

Bernard Stiegler recently gave a talk at the Institute for Digital Media Culture and Aesthetics  (ICAM) at Leuphana furthering his exploration of the idea of Digital Studies. Stiegler provides some really nice discussion of his reading of phenomenology, in particular his advancement of Husserl’s scheme of retention/protention. He moves on to (broadly) reiterate some of the key parts of his argument in Taking Care.

In the introduction to Stiegler’s talk, Goetz Bachmann offers some interesting observations and context to Stiegler’s work, which is nice. Bachmann was one of the members of the Goldsmiths Cultural Studies team that has hosted annual Stiegler’s Professorial seminars there.

Why should sociologists [and geographers] study digital media?

Deborah Lupton recently wrote a blog post asking, and answering, the question: why should sociologists study digital media? Her answers are interesting, and are couched in the framework for a book project Lupton is working on around digital sociology for next year. What I idly wondered when reading through the list of answers Lupton provides is: would these make sense for geographers if we replace ‘the social’ with something like ‘space and place’ or ‘the spatial’?

Here’s Lupton’s bulleted list of answers:

  • Social life is increasingly being configured through and with digital media.
  • What counts as ‘the social’ is increasingly framed via digital media.
  • Digital media use and practice is structured through gender, social class, geographical location, education, race/ethnicity and age, all social categories with which sociologists have traditionally been interested.
  • Digital media are integral parts of contemporary social networks and social institutions such as the family, the workplace, the education system, the healthcare system, the mass media and the economy, again phenomena that have long been foci for sociological research and theorising.
  • Digital media configure concepts of selfhood, social relationships, embodiment, human/nonhuman relations, space and time – all relevant to sociological inquiry.
  • Digital media have instituted new forms of power relations.
  • Digital media have become central to issues of measure and value.
  • Digital media offer alternative ways of practising sociology: of researching, teaching and disseminating research.
  • Digital media are important both to ‘public sociology’ (engaging with people outside of academia) and ‘private sociology’ (personal identities and practices as sociologists).
  • Digital media challenge sociologists’ role as pre-eminent social researchers: sociologists need to address this.
  • Digital media technologies can contribute to ‘live sociology’ and ‘inventive methods’, or new, creative ways of practising sociology.

There is a hint of disciplinary anxiety about some of this, which is understandable given the contemporary state of academia, but even so I can’t help thinking these questions could be more broadly framed as ‘why social scientists should study digital media’.

Anyway, to answer my own idle question about substituting the focus on ‘the social’ with that of ‘the spatial’… this might work to a lesser or greater extent for some of these questions. As intimated by my comment above, some of the questions are just as much the concern of human geographers (and anthropologists, historians, scholars of politics and international relations [and so on] for that matter) as they are of sociologists. So here’s my attempt at a complementary list of geographically focused answers to the question ‘why should geographers and other social scientists study digital media?’:

  • Space & place and the social are increasingly being (re)configured with and through digital media.
  • What counts as ‘the social’, ‘culture’, ‘place’ and ‘landscape’ are increasingly being framed via digital media.
  • Digital media use and practice is structured through gender, social class, topographical location, contexts of place, education, race/ethnicity and age, all social and spatial categories with which social scientists have traditionally been interested.
  • Digital media are integral parts of contemporary social and spatial networks and social institutions such as the family, the workplace, the education system, the healthcare system, the mass media and the economy, again phenomena that have long been foci for social sciences research and theorising.
  • Digital media (re)configure concepts of selfhood, social relationships, embodiment, human/nonhuman relations, space and time – all relevant to research concerning society and space.
  • Digital media have instituted new forms of power relations.
  • Digital media have become central to issues of measure and value.
  • Digital media offer alternative ways of practising scholarship: of researching, teaching and disseminating research.
  • Digital media are important both to ‘public scholarship’, as engaging with people outside of academia, and ‘private scholarship’, involving personal identities and practices as social scientists.
  • Digital media challenge social scientists’ role as pre-eminent social researchers: we all need to address this.
  • Digital media technologies can contribute to ‘live’ research and ‘inventive methods’, or new, creative ways of practising social science.

I think Lupton provides really good answers to the question of why any scholar should study digital media, they certainly motivate many of my interests in that field.

Reblog > Video now available for Conditions of Mediation preconference

Scott Rodgers has posted the welcome news that the video from the Conditions of Mediation conference earlier this year is now available. The video comprises the keynote presentations.


After much behind-the-scenes fidgeting and arranging, I’m happy to say we can finally make available an edited video recording of the two keynote symposiums from Conditions of Mediation, the ICA preconference I co-organized with Tim Markham, held at Birkbeck on 17 June 2013. The two keynote symposiums kicked off the intense one-day event. The first group of speakers include Graham Harman, Lisa Parks and Paddy Scannell and the second group include Shaun Moores, Nick Couldry and David Berry. Not only are each speakers’ contributions interesting, but so too were the debates and discussions which followed (between the speakers and audience). Looking back, it certainly was a unique cross-section of phenomenological perspectives as they relate or might relate to thinking about media, technology and communication.

See Scott’s post for more information about the video.

Reblog > Being and Space

Over on the technophilia blog, my former colleague and friend Patrick Crogan has written a really insightful piece in response to the general reading of Stiegler I offer in my recent paper The Matter of ‘Virtual’ Geographies. Following on from my rather quick explanation of Stiegler’s use of the concept of technicity, Patrick brings a nuanced gloss on Stiegler’s reading of Heidegger in Technics and Time 1 – please read on below.

I would like to note, as I did in the acknowledgements of the article, that my own engagement with Stiegler’s work and the broader (post)phenomenological understandings of the human-technology relation comes from sustained, very rewarding, discussions with Patrick, whose own insightful work, expertise and translations have been invaluable.

Being and Space

Sam Kinsley, former colleague and technophilia, now at Exeter Uni, recently published ‘The Matter of “Virtual” Geography’ in Progress in Human Geography. It gives a comprehensive overview of the history of formulations of virtual spaces and realities since the heady days of the 1990s articulations of cyberspace, up to recent approaches to ideas of coded and networked spatialities. Sam perceptively mobilises Stiegler’s work including his use of Simondon and Heidegger to propose a way of describing and analysing digitally enabled spatial and temporal refigurations of contemporary existence and sociality.

I wanted to add a gloss on this mobilisation of Stiegler’s notion of technicity, as a point that seemed to me to touch on an important element in Stiegler’s critical adoption of Heidegger’s Being and Time — hence the ‘Being and Space’ title. Sam has this to say about Stiegler’s positioning of humans as always already preceded by technics in a way:

“Culture”, he writes, “can accordingly be thought of as metastable systems of retention, of exteriorized thought: ‘A new born child arrives into a world in which tertiary retention [data, images, writing and so on] both precedes and awaits it, and which, precisely, constitutes the world as world’ (Stiegler, 2010a: 9, original emphasis). The ongoing creation of shared knowledge, and thus a shared memory and history, is in large part mediated by technology (with the notable exceptions of practices of oral history and storytelling).”

Absolutely, and here Stiegler’s take on and taking from Heidegger’ notion of Dasein’s ‘throwness’ is evident. Dasein, the being for whom its being is a question, ‘falls’ into time, and encounters a facticity already there. This paradoxical futurity of what precedes Dasein in a sense programmes (though this word is evocative much more of Stiegler’s Heidegger than Heidegger) the questioning of being that characterises Dasein, along with the tension between an intratemporal business with everyday things seeking to avoid the question and an authentic encounter with it via (in Heidegger) an assuming of the heritage of the collective past as pro-genitor and horizon of Dasein’s future possibilities.

In the latter part of Technics and Time 1 Stiegler ‘deals with’ Heidegger, identifying this notion of a throwness into an already existent facticity as his major insight, while also identifying quite precisely the point in Being and Time  (at a certain moment in the famous chapter on historicality and temporality) where Heidegger turns away from the implications of this constitutive factical technicity of Dasein and towards the more problematic notion of a history of being as expressed in the community of the volk  – the community — thought separately as a spiritual continuity, somehow transcendent from a facticity now relegated to the status of intratemporal covering over of the former. For Stiegler, as Sam’s account indicates, technics is an irreducible dimension of individual and collective being and any ‘authentic’ reflection or encounter with the question of one’s being, or of being in general (in philosophy, religion, politics etc) develops on the basis of and out of conditions that are factical, that pre-exist s/he reflecting, and that also make possible the transmission and communication of that reflecting to others to come after.

One more note: the oral history and storytelling that is part of the the “ongoing creation of shared knowledge” Sam describes is also mediated technically, if not ‘technologically’ (but perhaps today few instances of mediation passes completely to one side of the pervasive electronic media milieu). Oral transmission is always part of a linguistic technicity; it is always undertaken in conjunction with certain rituals and gestures associated with the cultural event of story recital; and often these will include the production of graphics of various kinds, rupestral, sand-painting, bodily inscription and so forth. That minds retain these forms and conventions and rites testifies to the profound interdependence of organic and non-organic spatial memory supports in the maintenance and evolution of individual and cultural identity.

The matter of ‘virtual’ geographies

I have been meaning to write a quick post about this for a while, so this is a ‘late’ announcement…

A few months ago I wrote about having two articles concerning digital geographies that I had coming out, the second of which was an article for Progress in Human Geography concerning the matter (both the issue and the materiality) of what have been called ‘virtual’ geographies. I am pleased to be able to say that this article is now available online on the Progress web pages. Unfortunately this requires a subscription for access. However,  I am happy to share pre-print copies of this paper, please contact me if you’re interested.

The Matter of ‘Virtual’ Geographies” revisits the articulation of ‘virtual’ geographies and reviews recent discussion within geography of digitally mediated activity. The aim of the article is to argue for a greater attention to the material conditions of ‘the digital’. This is achieved by articulating a theory of ‘technics’–the co-constitutive relation between the human and the technical,–and ‘transduction’–the iterative modulating and translation of a sociotechnical milieu from one state to another–through the philosophy of Bernard Stiegler. This article expands on existing work in geography, such as Kitchin & Dodge’s excellent ‘Code/space’, that is pushing for more sophisticated understandings of software, code, and the plethora of increasingly sophisticated systems and devices with which we mediate ourselves and our (spatial) experience of everyday life.

Reblog > Self-quantification researcher network

Deborah Lupton has blogged about the creation of a self-quantification researcher network:

Heather Patterson of New York University and I have set up a self-quantification and self-tracking research network. This forum is intended for anyone interested in the social, cultural, political, legal or ethical aspects of wearable technology, biosensors, digital health, mobile health, big data and algorithms, ubiquitous computing or similar topics.

Messages appropriate for the list include but are not limited to the following:
• Announcements of upcoming events/conferences/talks/seminars;
• Announcements of new or forthcoming publications;
• Invitations for research collaborations;
• Calls for conference or contributions to edited books or journals;
• Information about requests for grant proposals;
• Announcements for job openings that may be of interest to list members;
• Pointers to information on new, interesting innovations in this research area; and
• General comments or questions about relevant topics.
We welcome researchers of all disciplines, including media and cultural studies, internet studies, information privacy law, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, information science, business, medicine, and engineering; as well as colleagues working in advocacy, government, and industry. Please contact Heather at hp33[at]nyu.edu if you would like to join the list.

Sounds great!

Bernard Stiegler, “the Net blues”

Bernard Stiegler has recorded a set of two pieces concerning the ‘digital revolution’ for Le Monde: for their Laws of the Networks [Lois de réseaux] blog, convened by the journalist Dominique Lacroix.

In the first of the two pieces, Stiegler articulates the ‘pharmacological’ nature of the internet, the ways in which our use of the digital both opens up new ways of living and, at the same time, constitutes great risks to our collective and, importantly, mental individuation. In particular, Stiegler focuses on understandings of the public and the private, in the wake of the revelations made possible by Edward Snowden’s ‘leaks’, and the ways in which the digital unsettles and unbalances what we can understand to be private or ‘secret’.

I have translated this first instalment, below. As usual clarifications or questions over the translation of a particular word are in square brackets and all emphasis is in the original text. The notes at the end are also from the original piece.

The Net blues [le blues du Net]

The philosopher Bernard Stiegler defines the digital revolution through the idea of publication and its social significance. The internet and the web bring incredible and unprecedented potential. However this process has become a target for the big American corporations which represent a risk for our societies. Bernard Stiegler brings together the Greek Myths and the work of historian of Greek myths Jean-Pierre Bernant, to clarify the issues of the Snowden affair.

Net blues

The digital revolution truly began a little over twenty years ago, when the United States enabled the internet to be accessible through the web. The appropriated a vision, formed by the European Tim Berners-Lee, and made it an apparatus of neo-colonialism. It was a deliberate strategy for at least five years and which has significantly transformed the face of the world. We have not fully understood, by the way, and I’m not certain we will ever truly comprehend, this extremely complex (always) ongoing process that has a global spread.

The digital is above all a process of generalised formalisation. This process, which resides in the protocols that enable interoperability, makes a range of diverse and varied techniques. This is a process of unification through binary code of norms and procedures that today allow the formalisation of almost everything: traveling in my car with a GPS system, I am connected through a digitised triangulation process that formalises my relationship with the maps through which I navigate and that transform my relationship with territory. My relationships with space, mobility and my vehicle are totally transformed. My inter-individual, social, familial, scholarly, national, commercial and scientific relationships are all literally unsettled by the technologies of social engineering. It is at once money and many other things – in particular all scientific practices and the diverse forms of pulbic life.

This has become what I have called – taking an expression of Sylvain Auroux – the process of “grammatisation”. Drawing on recent work, I ask if this process – as André Leroi-Gourhan has already suggested – triggered the Upper Paleolithic, then suddenly intensified in the event of the neolithic, resulted in ideogrammatic writing. This has been rendered more complex, and enriched, via the automata of Vaucanson; then through the automation of factories, and thus the operation of machinery: and finally to the present situation, which is digital.

Canard de Vaucanson

Le canard digérateur, one of the most sophisticated automatons by Jacques Vaucanson, French engineer (1709-1782). source Wikipedia

The word “grammatisation” coming from τα γράμματα (ta grammata, Ed.), which can be called “the letters” in greek. This makes possible the ‘discretisation” of the flow of the temporal continuum, in the form of words, and this discretisation is effectuated through a spatialisation that is also a graphical reproduction, in other words a visualisation.

Today, the digital permits the discretisation not only of the movements of the mouth and tongue, which provide words, but rather all movements, both human and non-human – for example the movement of beef carcases that cross the Atlantic on cargo ships from Argentina to feed Europeans, which carry RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags, and which create what today we call traceability. Other examples include: how we follow the movements of animals and insects to attempt to understand the transformative processes of life, of the earth, and of other ecosystems extraordinarily perturbed by human and industrial activity, which we call the “anthropization” of the world. Yet the digital equally facilitates user profiling–and thus from this facilitates a control of behaviour through social mimesis–to track all human actions and gestures and to apply mathematical correlations with feedback loops to institute what Antoinette Rouvray and Thomas Berns [1] describe as “algorithmic governmentality”, which represents an automated forecasting of both private and public life. Or, again, the discretisation of the movements in the brain, such as brain imaging and the use of such descritisation processes to aid neuromarketing, based in an analysis of the brain that tends to directly solicit automated drives that short-circuit social development [apprentissages].

All of this opens, at the same time, tremendous new and extremely promising opportunities in social relations, in forms of knowledge, in cooperation in all forms, in communities of peer contributors, in the economy of contribution, in new tools for research, in education and creativity and finally in a new age of the life of the spirit. This speaks to a process underwritten with huge contrast and contradictions. I believe that there is a lot less time left than human society, and in particular European society, realises. Unfortunately, in Europe, this realisation was exceedingly late.

The case of Snowden, considered as a whistleblower in Europe and a traiter in the US, has revealed the practices of NSA (National Security Agency) with the collusion of Facebook, Google and other American organisations, informing the US intelligence agencies of all of our activities, through a generalised traceability. Faced with these developments, but also with the growing feeling that it is is less and less tolerable that there is a hegemony of commercial objectives that have no political or social regulation and which are almost exclusively conducted in California, by hackers, the militant developers of the web, the internet and computing and digital technologies in all sectors–which I have been personally using for over 30 years- a large number of proselytisers of the “digital revolution” have been hit by what I have called, during a public talk for Ars Industrialis at the Théatre du Rond Pont: the “Net blues” [2].

These activities and these communities suddenly  [tout à coup] discovered that the internet has extremely toxic aspects. For example, because we have seen what Snowdon revealed we have discovered the very possibility of secrecy seems to have disappeared with the digitisation of everyday life. This dissolution of secrecy is very serious. On a psychical level, it is perhaps the destruction of the possibility of a psyche endowed with intimacy and of singular individuation, if it is the case that the unconscious is what remains hidden and secret to oneself. And at the level of diplomacy, the publication of the diplomatic data and cables by Wikileaks – through a channeling [pompage] of data that made the internet possible – which has been presented as a positive thing, is also literally the destruction of the conditions for classic diplomacy, which is to say [de ce qui sert parfois à éviter la guerre]. For me, the publication of the diplomatic cables without doubt includes a positive dimension, but it is absolutely necessary not to elide that it is also a dangerous shift.

That secrets are necessary for international life is obvious. However, for example, is banking secrecy necessary? This is another topic for which we do not have time to discuss, but many believe (including myself) that the automated transfer of information to prevent bank secrecy should be mandatory.

Be that as it may, the secrecy of intimate life is essential and forms the possibility of attaining a dignity of existence–a dignity defined for humanity by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. The traceablity of personal data creates a kind of digital nudity which is an indignity for the human [l'homme]. Initimacy is the possibility and the necessity of having a secret life that I compose for myself. This is the primary lesson from Freud. I do not truly know for myself what is extremely intimate to me because that is what we call the unconscious. In the guise of self-expression, the whole of human history is in some way a “keeping of secrets” without making them public and without ever totally having access to them ourselves.

Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mythe et pensée chez les Grecs

Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myths and thinking with the Greeks

From the advent of the politeia this becomes a fundamental aspect of social organsiation. The Greeks played an extremely important role in the precise, delineated and institutionalised differentation between the public and the private, for we cannot have a public sphere without a private sphere. To understand this, one must read the text that Jean-Pierre Vernant dedicated to the relation between the couple Hermes and Hestia, Hestia is the figure of the home, privacy, secrecy and the care given to the fire that always comprises a sacred and divine dimension. Hermes is the figure of movement, communication and public space. Vernant shows that there is not one without the other: if we destroy what is secret, we also destroy public space, and vice versa.

As for us, the men and women of the 21st century, we are experiencing a publishing revolution: the digital space constitutes, above all, a process of publishing. We publish ourselves, voluntarily or not. We do it unintentionally when we are tracked by cookies: everything that we do is parsed, storable and analysable through so-called big data, which are new ways of implementing applied mathematics through algorithms which can capture and process the hundreds and billions of [units of] data, which, through feedback loops, performatively change the dynamics of the behaviour of those whose data are analysed in real-time, and which constantly formulate adjustments to trajectories which are in reality a kind of autopilot for behaviour.

Be that as it may, through these publishing systems, we are all capable of publishing and so distributing our ideas, our propositions, our analyses, our points of view, our critiques, and so on – and through this, we become able to take part in a new form of public life, for example by creating [web] sites, like that of Ars Industrialis, and thereby constituting the new possiblities, which Gilbert Simondon called pyschic and collective individuation. I use the word “individuation” to explicate the “pharmacological” character of the internet: the internet is double-edged, it offers new and absolutely extraordinary opportunities for individation but also, at the same time, it threatens the fundamentals of individuation.

The internet is a “φάρμακον” (pharmakon Ed.), in the sense that Plato described writing, and we are discovering this double-edged nature [cette double face]. The actual system of the web is dangerous for secrets, for psychic individuation, for collective individuation, because we cannot and we should not submit to forms of calculability. Such a capitulation [soumission] can only engender a “voluntary servitude” which could rapidly become involuntary and inescapable [insurmontable]. In contrast, the digital allows the intensification of the incalculable in the same way that writing in Ancient Greece had huge effects on individuation through an enriched social diversity – especially by making citizenship possible, which formed the birth of a new process of psychic and collective individuation.
The promulgation of writing has certainly engendered a loss of idiomatic differences, that is to say, local individuations. All kinds of idioms began to disappear. At the same time, it was a growth in individuation through citizenship, tragedy, philosophy, etc. – All on the basis of public law [rights? droit public].

The question for us is whether the switch to digital is creating a phenomenon of this kind or, conversely, a process of widespread “disindividuation.”

Bureau de Bernard Stiegler, Épineuil-le-Fleuriel, 28 juillet 2013, cliché DL

Bernard Stiegler’s office, Épineuil-le-Fleuriel, 28 juillet 2013, taken by Dom Lecroix.

Notes

1. Cf. Réseaux, février 2013, La Découverte.
2. Cf. http://www.arsindustrialis.org/
3. I speak here of performativity in the sense of John Austin, for whom a performative utterance is a self-declaration such as that which I say, by the fact that I am saying it, creates a situation, and this “fact” is something in the situation that is prior to the creation of the situation. Cf. John Austin, Quand dire, c’est faire, éditions Seuil.

Academic (quantitative) techniques of the self

David Beer points to a recent blog post by Deborah Lupton (it is an excellent blog and worth browsing) concerning how we can understand academic obsessions with measurement as a version of the self-disciplining ‘quantified self’ movement. Interesting stuff…

Academics have been counting elements of their work for a long time as part of their professional practice and presentation of the self, even before the advent of digital technologies. The ‘publish or perish’ maxim refers to the imperative for a successful academic to constantly produce materials such as books, book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles in order to maintain their reputation and place in the academic hierarchy. Academic curricula vitae invariably involve lists of these outputs under the appropriate headings, as do university webpages for academics. They are required for applications for promotions, new positions and research funding.[...]

In adopting a critical reflexive approach to all this monitoring and measurement, we need to ask questions. Should the practices of quantifying the academic self be considered repressive of academic freedom and autonomy? Do they place undue stress on academics to perform, and perhaps to produce work that is sub-standard but greater in number? However it is also important to consider the undeniable positive dimensions of participating in digital public engagement and thereby reaching a wider audience. Academics do not write for themselves alone: being able to present their work to more readers has its own rewards. Quantified selfers can find great satisfaction in using data to take control over elements of their lives and also as a performative aspect. So too, for academics, collecting and presenting data on their professional selves can engender feelings of achievement, satisfaction and pride at their accomplishments. Such data are important to the academic professional sense of self.

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Municipal memory?

The 20th century is the century of the industrialisation, the conservation and the transmission—that is, the selection—of memory. This industrialisation becomes concretized in the generalisation of the production of industrial temporal objects (phonograms, films, radio and television programs, etc)
[Bernard Stiegler, ‘The Time of Cinema. On the "New World" and "Cultural Exception"’, p. 106.].

Following on from the post I made a few months ago, providing a version of a paper entitled ‘memory programmes‘ that I gave at the “Conditions of Mediation” conference at Birkbeck in June, I wanted to share some thoughts I have included in a recent submission around the theme of the ‘industrialisation of memory’, following Stiegler (as above), and the discourses of the ‘smart city’. I play around with the suggestion of the formation of a ‘municipal memory‘, which could be considered one of the cornerstones of what Nigel Thrift has diagnosed as “Lifeworld Inc.“.

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Border Bumping

While the lines drawn on maps, policed at crossings and customs posts, can apparently clearly delineate a border, other technologies that can also (be used to) place us, on one side of a border or another, may ebb and flow with atmospheric, material and technical differences. In particular, the relatively well known tendency for the cellular mobile phone system to record the location of a given device (via triangulation) as some distance from the actual physical location has been interrogated and played with by artists and activists alike.

One such meditation on the vagaries of the locational capabilities of the GSM system is the Border Bumping project. Julian Oliver has played around with how we traverse borders by examining how phones register with the network and redrawing a map of the borders accordingly. Oliver has created an app that lets owners of Android phones contribute to the project.

Here’s a nice video exploring ‘Border Bumping’: