Tag Archives: Digital

“The Annotated World, building a more social map” presentation by Ed Parsons, a geospatial technologist from Google

Today I attended a seminar presentation by Ed Parsons, the geospatial technologist from Google, titled “The Annotated World, building a more social map”. Parsons presentation was hosted by the Geography department in University College Cork. Although geography is not my area of research, geomantics, GIS, and geospatial tagging are some of my research interests as a digital arts and humanities scholar. Parsons presentation demonstrates how disciplines of the humanities can be revived and transformed by incorporating the use of computational methodologies, theories and tools in traditional humanities’ research. Subsequently, the discipline, in this case, geography shifts from being the study of the man-land relationship to the study of the man-land-computer relationship. Therefore, ‘digital’ geography, if it could be called that, becomes not only relevant to those studying the features and phenomena of the land and the earth, but it becomes an interest for computer scientists and multinational corporations such as Google who are looking to mine geospatial data to enhance their digital services and products, and the experience of the interaction between humans and computers.

With the employment of digital technology in Geography, Google has transformed the discipline into a marketable, knowledge product. This is evident from the creation of highly successful digital services such as Google Maps (a web mapping service and technology) and Google Earth (a geographical information programme), which are responsible for the radical transformation of how users surf the internet and how the user interacts with space and time in a digital and physical sense. The transformation of the user’s interaction with space and time may not be an obvious point until one considers how a traditional cartographic map or a digital map are windows to the past because they offer a glimpse of geospatial history in 2D and 3D form. The Historical Imagery feature in Google Earth allows the user to look at satellite imagery of Earth and travel back in time 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago. With this service, the user can observe how our environment is changing both naturally and unnaturally over time.

[Google Earth Tutorial video]

The main points of Parsons presentation are as follows:

(1): How Google is using geography and geospatial data to overcome the problems of human-computer interaction by helping the user to locate and increase the accuracy of their search results through GIS (Geographic Information System).

(2): How we are moving beyond the traditional cartographic map with annotated, digital maps.

(3): Google’s future developments.

(4): The death of the desktop computer.

According to Parsons, “Google is all about finding things,” but in order for Google to be able to find location-specific information, such as if one was searching for a plumber in Cork and not New York, then “Google must use geography to help answer these questions”. By identifying the whereabouts of users, Google can solve some of the problems of human-computer interaction by filtering information content and reducing data deluge or the amount of inappropriate or inaccurate search results to those that only match the user’s geospatial data. Parsons explains that “1 in 3 searches on Google are about places” and that every time one uses Google one is also using GIS because there are algorithms processing information behind the scenes. All this content is being brought together unstructured and the majority of this information is accessed from mobile devices, which raise the question about the status of the traditional desktop computer as a species on the verge of extinction.

Beyond Maps

Parsons claims we are moving beyond the traditional cartographic map, but the first steps of this movement involved the rather simplistic and limited digitisation of maps, which only provided static, digital images, thus failing to serve as a solution to the functional and conceptual limitations of printed maps. In other words, the printed map was first recreated in digital form before it became what it is today.

Parsons questions:
• “Are there other ways of encoding the cartography in maps?”
• “What is the underlying information [that can and should be expressed]?”

The maps we use today, however, are radically different from traditional cartographic maps or the aforementioned, first digital maps because they are not static and dimensionally restricted. Instead, today’s maps are dynamic and dimensionally unbound because they are capable of manipulation in 2D, 3D and 4D form. By 4D I mean ‘Time’ because today’s maps make the boundaries of temporality malleable in a digital sense because they provide the user a view of the past, present and future. Touring the planet Mars on Google Earth is one example of how today’s maps show us the future. As well as being capable of manipulating visuality and temporality in a geospatial context, Google Earth can transcend the biological limitation of the human body in the digital realm. One can visually explore the oceans on Google Earth 5.0 without having to get their feet wet, to use a submarine or having to hold one’s breath during submersion. Although one will most likely hold their breath when they become immersed in the spectacular oceanic imagery. Sea-ing is believing!

Not only are today’s maps dynamic, but their creation is entirely different to the solitary task of the cartographer’s unidirectional inscription of his/her knowledge with ink on to vellum or paper. Today’s maps, however, are interactive – their creation is a democratic process involving a bidirectional exchange of knowledge between consumer and producer. This collaborative collection of geospatial data is then harvested to write algorithms and to display information in pixelated form on digital devices.

The Annotated World

As Parsons remarks, “People define places” because place is a social construct. In order for one to gain a sense of what a place is like, one must build an idea about that place and what it means for people. “Cork needs people to describe it,” Parsons explains, and Google is drawing from the online well of collaborative knowledge by requesting user participation in reviewing and rating places to construct a shareable sense of place. Parsons reminds his audience of the often-quoted joke, “On the internet no body knows you’re a dog,” to emphasize the unreliability of anonymous online reviews and ratings. Google, however, ensures reliability by adding a social element to the reviewing process. For example, the places I intend to visit will already have been annotated by people I know, but “not everyone’s opinion is equal,” Parsons claims. For restaurant reviews, Google bought ZAGAT to add professional restaurateurs’s opinions to the amateur food critics reviews. “All this, Parsons claims, “is combined in annotating the world around us”.

In addition to annotation, today’s maps are personalised and customised, which increases intimacy in human-computer interactions because it creates a sense of what I call artificial familiarity between the user and their computer. Personalisation and customisation humanizes our digital devices and gives the false impression that it is conscious and aware of our needs and desires. One of the ways Google achieves artificial familiarity is by offering the user search result choices that are dependent upon temporality – times of the day. To use Parsons’s example, if one is searching Google for places to eat late on a Friday night then the choices provided will be based on one’s previous eating habits appropriate to that time of day. If one is searching for places to eat on a week day then Google will not offer one the fast food search results of a kebah or burger shop that one wanted when socialising on a Friday night. This is another example of human-computer interaction where the computer is endowed with human qualities. In this case, our customised and personalised digital devices demonstrate the ability to learn and remember from previous Internet search requests and selected results. When digital technology becomes too customised and personalised, however, Parsons claims it crosses the boundary called the “creepy line”.

The Future: Where is Google going with GIS?

One of the possible future developments of Google in the next 5 years or so that Parsons discusses is 3D maps. The advantage of these maps, in comparison to today’s maps, is that they are captured in single time in 2.5D. 3D maps of the future will give a photorealistic view of the world, but Parsons claims they are not useful for particular tasks because “the real world gets in the way of information”. In other words, the annotation is compromised by the heightened visuality in the maps. Therefore, Parsons considers 3D maps to be mere “eye candy”, which differs significantly from the enhanced functionality of the hybrid approach – a second potential future development of Google, which Parsons discusses.

One area of geography that is largely unmapped by Google is the great indoors. Parsons claims, “70 of our lives are spent indoors or inside”. Mapping this uncharted geographical frontier was challenged by the unavailability of Wi-Fi in public buildings such as shopping malls and retail stores, but it is also challenged by the task of gaining permission to map a private space. With the increased availability of free and customer restricted Wi-Fi access in retail stores, Google can use Wi-Fi to locate and track the movements of shoppers as they navigate the store, thus creating a consumer-created blueprint of the inside of buildings from the geospatial data transmitted to Google from user’s handheld digital devices. Tracking and mapping our whereabouts outdoors is one thing, but tracking and mapping were we go and what we do indoors takes a step too far in to the private zone. Although it takes the breech of privacy to a whole new level, one group of people that would greatly benefit from the invasion of our indoor lives would be those interested in data mining consumer-behaviour analysis. If used correctly, consumer-behaviour data could revolutionise how people shop and experience products within shops, which are often hampered by a general lack of accurate, observational knowledge about how customers navigate and interact with products in store, which is essential knowledge for sustaining and maintaining a healthy and happy retailer-consumer relationship.

Google Now

“The map of the future, Parsons explains, “is not a map” because maps are not good for representing geospatial data.

Google Now uses context driven information. The example Parsons uses is notifications of traffic conditions that are not provided by sensors tracking the movement of traffic on roads, but instead they come from users. Millions of users are moving around and Google is using their geospatial data to generate real-time information content that is not requested by the user, but the geospatial information is sent directly to them. “All information,” Parsons emphasizes “is geospatial and does not need a map”.

Death of the desktop computer

As I mentioned earlier, Parsons noted that the majority of Google search results are attained from handheld digital devices instead of desktop computers. Parsons claims, “we have come to the end of that metaphor”. The desktop metaphor is being replaced by the (biblical?) metaphor of the tablet – the tablet computer, such as Apple’s iPad. Unlike Moses’s tablet, however, today’s tablet computer is not designed to operate after being broken in two during a fit of rage.

The desktop computer is also at threat from an up-and-coming hands-free digital device that Parsons says might be available to purchase by this time next Christmas. Google Glass are augmented reality glasses that give a more direct interface with the user from their direction approximation with our eyes. Google Glass combines the virtual and the physical world, and the magic of this amalgamation can be found in the middle ground between the two. A product of that magic is ambient information (http://itlaw.wikia.com/wiki/Ambient_information).

I mentioned earlier about how in human-computer interaction the computer is created to be pseudo-human or quasi-human in its interactions with us. With Google Glass, however, it could be argued that the computer is not only being created to simulate the ‘human,’ but it is becoming a part of the human – an inseparable part, to be precise, because Parsons informs his audience that Google wants us to wear Google Glass 24/7.

Wearable computers are attractive in numerous ways, but if one’s location and behaviour is being tracked 24/7 because our devices will be attached to us all the time then are we any different from the micro chipped animals whose migrations patterns we observe?

When we embrace digital technology, we’re extending ourselves, transcending the limitations of our biological and mental selves, but at the expense of our privacy and our precious connection to reality – it’s a double-edged sword!

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A Liu-cidal Massacre of the Digital Humanities!

In “The State of the digital humanities: a report and a critique,” Alan Liu discusses the advances made in overcoming the past short comings of the digital humanities, but despite these progressive developments Liu argues the field (not yet a discipline in Liu’s eyes) still posses major inadequacies that drastically reduces its potentiality — its inherent capacity for growth, development and expansion into a future representation of the Humanities.

In juxtaposition to Liu’s claim, however, some digital humanists contend the digital humanities will never represent the Humanities, but will in fact be an entirely separate discipline, or semi-separate discipline as Willard McCarthy proposes. McCarthy says:

But let me offer a different criterion for success: simply to be accepted as one of the community, to sit at the table among equals and talk, then to go back home to a department of the digital humanities, with its students, programmes, seminars and so on, and get on with educating and being educated.” (McCarthy 2009)

Akin to Liu, Patrik Svensson disagrees with the view that the future path of digital humanities will diverge from the Humanities. Svensson states, “it seems quite unlikely that the digital humanities would ever become a fully separate field” (para. 18). Similarly, Katherine N. Hayles warns that it would be “a tragic mistake” if a “radical divergence” occurred. In relation to the assimilation-distinction agenda of the digital humanities, Hayles states:

The kinds of articulation that emerge have strong implications for the future: will the Digital Humanities become a separate field whose interests are increasingly remote from the Traditional Humanities, or will it on the contrary become so deeply entwined with questions of hermeneutic interpretation that no self- respecting Traditional scholar could remain ignorant of its results? If the Digital Humanities were to spin off into an entirely separate field, the future trajectory of the Traditional Humanities would be affected as well. Obviously, this is a political as well as an intellectual issue. In the case of radical divergence (which I think would be a tragic mistake), one might expect turf battles, competition for funding, changing disciplinary boundaries, and shifting academic prestige (qtd. in Svensson para. 17).

Having said that, however, Liu, Hayles and Svensson’s preoccupation with the digital humanities’ disciplinary assimilation or distinction negates the total point and purpose of digital humanities scholarship. The essential nature of digital humanities is its ability to transcend disciplinary boundaries and facilitate interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary research. Digital humanities achieve this through the utilization of computational tools and methodologies, which establish an open-access virtual platform where information is not located or designated by disciplinary boundaries because these knowledge walls become soluble when submersed in a digital solution. It is for this reason that attempting to predict whether the digital humanities of the future will represent the Humanities or become its own discipline could be viewed as a futile endeavor, which appears to be fueled by a subconscious, technophobic fear of rapid change and development, and nostalgia for the simpler time when print culture was dominant in society. Knowledge unification and dissemination, however, is the intrinsic nature of digital humanities research, which is irrelevant to Liu, Hayles and Svensson’s fears of an inter- or intra-disciplinary divide with digital humanities and the Humanities on the basis of a print-digital binary. Even though it is attached with the prefix of ‘digital,’ the digital humanities is still in many respects ‘humanities,’ albeit in an alternative form. Therefore, the focus of concern should be on what digital humanities can do to compliment, advance or transform the Humanities, regardless of whether it has a symbiotic or aposymbiotic relationship status with the Humanities.

Moving away from this debate and returning to Liu’s article, the following will be a summary of some major points Liu mentions.

(1): Scale

Considering the sheer size of Liu’s article, it is rather ironic that he highlights ‘scale’ as one of the shortcomings of digital humanities. Liu criticises early digital humanities websites and projects, such as the William Blake Archive and the Walt Whitman Archive because of their difficulties with scalability (18). Liu compares early digital humanities projects to the “Tardis in the BBC Doctor Who television series” because “they were larger on the inside than they seemed on the outside” (18). However, due to the large scale of digital projects being developed at present, Liu argues, “that scale itself has snapped into focus as one of the field’s constitutive concepts”(18). Subsequently, “scale is a new horizon of intellectual inquiry,” but scale will always remain a mountain where the fruits of intellectual inquiry flourish at the summit (21). For large-scale projects such as the Linguistic Atlas Project, the fruits of intellectual inquiry are perpetually unattainable and out of reach of the plucking fingers of curious scholars involved. As William A. Kretschmar, Jr. states in relation to the (American Linguistic Atlas Project):

We cannot come to an end of the work because we are witnesses and archivists of how Americans talk, and they keep talking differently across time and space. Neither do I think that our humanities-computing representation of our research is capable of being finally perfected, of achieving some perfect state, because technology keeps changing and the demands placed upon our research keep changing. If we view the entirety of the Linguistic Atlas Project as a “large-scale humanities computing project,” the word “finish” is just not part of the deal. And we are not alone. While the creation of, say, a variorum edition may seem like a project that can be finished in both senses, actually we need to make new editions all the time, since our idea of how to make the best edition changes as trends in scholarship change, especially now in the digital age when new technical possibilities keep emerging.

The computational tools and research inquires of digital humanities scholarship is inconstant — continuously evolving and changing with time — which fuels project-scale growth. Therefore, scale is an irreducible, inevitable and (for the most part) and unavoidable constituent of digital humanities research.

(2): Form

Liu argues, “the field has so far largely lacked a considered focus on new media forms, whether in terms of genre, rhetoric, or style.” (24) According to Liu, digital humanists are “theoretically inattentive to the formal […] differences between the “static page” and “template-driven websites,” and “‘born-digital forms’” and “digitized-print forms” (24). Therefore, Liu contends, “digital humanists tend to understand new-media forms as residually print-centric” (24). To say that, however, digital humanists perceive the likes of Google Books as merely books and Wikipedia as only an encyclopaedia is a gross misconception and misinterpretation of the adoption and incorporation of print related terminology to describe new media technology.

For example, is an eBook a book? Not all, or even the majority of digital humanists, would answer ‘yes’ to this question. Although it is called a ‘book,’ an eBook is only a digital ghost or manifestation of a particular work. The most prominent distinction between an eBook and a book is the fact that an eBook is not inseparably attached or connected to the physical medium of representation. A physical copy is required for one to read a book, while an eBook requires downloading, a physical carrier and a physical reading device with the necessary software for the work to be represented for the reader so he/she can read it. Even though an eBook is viewed by many, without a great depth of consideration, as simply a book in digital disguise, the physical limitations of the print medium are not translated to its digital counterpart. Therefore, this raises the question: Should we be calling an eBook a book if the limitations that define a book are absent from an eBook?

(3): Data Aesthetics

According to Liu, “Data aesthetics” are missing from the text-oriented side of the digital humanities (27). The list, line or bar graphs and tag clouds reflect “the near-total imaginative poverty of the field in crafting an aesthetics of data” (27). Liu claims there is more focus on metadata than “the look-and-feel of data” (27).
Therefore, “the secret formula” for Katherine N. Hayles embodied experience of information, as Liu suggests, is the collapsing of “the phenomenological divide between metadata and data” (28).

With that in mind, one must ask: What about D3.js? Is D3 not ‘aesthetic’ enough for Liu? Although I agree that list, line or bar graphs are rather mundane ways of visualising data, one must ask oneself: what is more important the formal qualities of data visualisation or the meaning of the data the visual form is expressing?

Perhaps Liu is correct in saying that digital humanities is not yet prepared to represent the Humanities. Digital humanities may never be ready, but is it the goal of digital humanities to be a representation of the Humanities, a replacement for it or a self-defined discipline? This is a difficult question to answer, but if I had to choose what I believe to be the most probable outcome I would pick the latter outcome. As I said early, digital humanities is, in many respects, Humanities in an alternative form, but this “alternative form” is continuously evolving and changing with the rapid advancements in technology, along with the reconceptualization of intellectual inquiry as a result of these advancements. As Heraclitus claims, the only constant is change and if the digital humanities is in a state of perpetual inconstancy then we might not be witnessing the end of Humanities, but only the end of Humanities as we know it.

Kretzschmar, William A. “Large-Scale Humanities Computing Projects: Snakes Eating Tails, or Every End is a New Beginning.”

Liu, Alan. “The State of the digital humanities: a report and a critique.”

Svensson, Patrik. “The Landscape of Digital Humanities”

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Define Digital Humanities?

‘Digital Humanities,’ in my opinion, is a wide-ranging umbrella term that is far too broad and inconstant (perpetually evolving) to give a coherent and accurate definition that does justice to the nature of the field (or discipline?) and encompasses its achievements. It is for this reason that anytime I am asked by an inquisitive stranger or acquaintance to define ‘DH’, my response usually is: “How much time do you have to spare?”

Having said that, some form of definition – although it may be exclusive and rather limited in its definitional scope – is better than no definition at all, but whether it is purposeful or useful to have a definition of ‘DH’ is questionable.

The first question that springs to mind when I attempt to formulate a definition of ‘DH’ is where to begin. Perhaps, the nomenclature itself would be a good starting point considering that it demarcates a transitional moment in the history of Humanities. The merging of technology with textual culture effectuated change with the reconceptualization of traditional practice, and the development of new fields of inquiry and new forms of learning, research and teaching, while preserving (temporarily?) the foundational aspects of the Humanities. Resultantly, knowledge has been opened up from the confines of the disciplinary boundaries of academic departments to an interdisciplinary educational ecosystem, and from the scholastic to the public domain via the digital realm of the Internet.

For me, ‘DH’ is obviously more than the mere intersection of Humanities and computer technologies, humanities through digital tools, or any other condescending overgeneralisation. In my opinion, I think we (Humans) are the definition of ‘DH’. “Computing is not about computers anymore. It is about living,” as Nicholas Negroponte claims. We (Humans) are the etymological root of the word ‘Humanities,’ and it is not only because of this fact that we are very much a part of the definition of ‘DH’. Humans define ‘DH’ through our interactions with computers, which in turn assist the interpretation and definition of who we are, as humans in this digital age.

The definition of ‘DH,’ in my opinion, is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the hands of the Digital Humanist, computational tool holder. ‘DH’ is what we create it to be, which subsequently (re)creates us.

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Bio-Art

I think it is important to note, in case anyone isn’t already aware of it, but the man himself, Eduardo Kac, coined the neologism, Bio-art, in 1997. In terms of what the hyphenated neologism represents, I think its representation is apparent when one defines the punctuational significance of a hyphen – a mark used to signify that the two words it joins have combined meaning and are linked together.

Having said that, however, there is an essential component to Kac’s neologism that he didn’t include. The essential message of Kac’s work, such as the Time Capsule and Genesis, is to convey “the bio-impact of digital technology” [1] in a post-digital world. What is missing from Kac’s neologism is the reference to the technology used to accomplish the creation of bio-art or the digital element responsible for its exhibition and collective, creative-participation from the global online community of viewers.

Perhaps, Kac should have called it “Bio-digi-art” or “Bio-tech-art” because, according to Kac, the biological and the digital are intertwined in Genesis and Time Capsule. According to Kac, materially speaking, there is no fundamental separation between digital and biological because “both processes can occur in a similar manner in both environments, in both media”.

Referring to Genesis, Kac claims the process involved in this artwork was built upon the fundamental, functional model of IT – the Input-Process-Output Model. Genesis involved encoding digital information into a living organism, changing it, and retrieving it.

Similarly, with Time Capsule, Kac deconstructs the biological-digital divide by inserting a biocompatible glass microchip into his body, which allows biological tissue and microchip to unite, to come together. The reason Kac self-inserted a microchip into his body was in order “to confront the changing world of memory as everything becomes digital.”

With this in mind, I think the answer to the question, “Do you think this phenomena of ‘bio-art’ has any relevance to our thinking about ‘digital art’?,” is a resounding ‘Yes’ simply because, in my opinion, the digital component of Bio-art, is a functional aspect responsible for creating, influencing, structuring and exhibiting the artwork. If the message of ‘digital art’ is to demonstrate the impact of the virtual on the real, the digital on the physical and the blurring of the lines between both then Bio-art is relevant to ‘digital art’ discussion. Bio-art echoes the message of digital art by conveying that the biological – what we associate to be natural or real – impacts on the creation of the digital, and vice versa. In the eyes of Kac, both biological and digital are indistinguishable – materially and philosophically. Therefore, in the light of Kac’s view, bio-art is digital art if both are amalgamated like in Time Capsule and Genesis.

With regard the implications of Bio-art, the effects of linking the biological to the aesthetic raise both bioethical and moral issues and concerns because the artist (or, Sci-artist) is not dealing with an object. They are dealing with life itself and “empathy and responsibility are paramount,” as Kac observes.

There are two sides to the debate over the controversial genetic engineering of Alba, the GFP bunny. On one side of the debate, there are those who perceive Kac’s actions to be unethical and immoral because of his tampering with nature or the laws of nature for not scientific – not for the greater good of mankind – but instead mere aesthetic purposes. I think this is one of the reasons why a certain section of society interpreted Kac’s bio-art as unethical. If it was for scientific or medical instead of aesthetic purposes then it would be perceived as more excusable by society because science ‘matters’.

On the other side of the debate, some Animal Rights groups see the message and method in Kac’s madness, which is that the artistic visibility of Alba publicises her plight as a lab animal used for scientific experimentation. As Kac affirms, lab animals have a “cognitive and emotional life that must be acknowledged in a social space”.

Kac justifies his creation of Alba by saying that “no single life force has a decision to come into the world” because “it is a decision of our parents,” which explains why Kac, as a parent of “a life form that didn’t exist before” felt morally obligated to take Alba home. What is morally and ethically wrong about a transgenic creature, like Alba, from Kac’s perspective is not their unnatural or artifical creation, but their treatment after creation up to the point of death.

With Kac’s view in mind, Bio-art now makes perfect sense because it is not some wacky artist with a Dr. Frankenstein complex tampering with nature for the aesthetic fun of it. Instead, as Marshall McLuhan claims, “the medium is the message” [2] and Kac amalgamates biological and digital media to convey his aesthetic message to the world.

[1] Digital Art @Google Eduardo Kac, Andrew Senior, Sandra Cordero, Marina Zurkow. Youtube

[2] McLuhan, Marshall. Understand Media: The Extensions of Man.

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Keeping Up Appearance … with the Digital Age!

When researching I have noticed that most of the literature on the New Aesthetic, which discusses the blurring of the reality-virtuality boundary, only focuses on the humanisation of technology – robots designed to be similar to humans by learning to drive cars, to recognise faces, to communicate, etc.

There is a flip-side to this, however, which is the technologization of the human – humanity’s desire to be like technology. One of the best examples I can think of for explaining this point is the use (or, overuse rather) of Auto-tune and digital manipulation in pop music production. In the music industry, pitch correction (heavily used by Cher and popularised in her song, ‘Believe’ (1998)) and speech synthesis (Stephen Hawking uses speech synthesis to communicate) could be viewed as examples of not only how humans attempt to be like technology, but how humans (especially with auto-tune) attempt to keep up with the sonic, crisp perfection of the digital.

Furthermore, it could be argued that the increase in cosmetic surgery, the use of botox and other cosmetic enhancements is concurrent with the availability of High-Definition TVs, Retina Display, etc, which is another example of how humans are attempting to keep up with the digital. Although some celebrities are being digitally enhanced for magazine covers to meet the high-definition standards of the digital aesthetic, they are also transforming their bodies physically to be like their digitally flawless images or alter-selves.

I think the New Aesthetic should not only show a uni-directional flow, but instead how the digital revolution is having a bi-directional impact on humanity and technology. Humanity has raised the bar on technology by attempting to make technology, human. Consequently, technology has raised the bar on us because rapid technological advancements have forced us to keep up with technology.

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The New Aesthetic

Does the New Aesthetic have a clear definition one might ask? Defining the ‘New Aesthetic’ is not an easy task, considering it can be defined from a few interpretative perspectives, as the following definitions will show.

Bruce Sterling claims that the New Aesthetic concerns itself with “an eruption of the digital into the physical.” [1] David Berry, in “Computationality and the New Aesthetic,” [2] echoes this point in saying that the New Aesthetic “is concerned with the act of representing the digital within the more commonly analogue life-world that we inhabit in everyday life.” Berry defines the New Aesthetic as “an aesthetic that revels in seeing the grain of computation, or perhaps better, seeing the limitations or digital artefacts of a kind of glitch, sometimes called the ‘aesthetic of failure.’

Madeline Ashby’s definition of the New Aesthetic is concerned with “seeing”. The New Aesthetic, for Ashby, is “largely about the technology of ‘seeing,’ and how we see this new technology of seeing,” [3] which compliments her critique of the New Aesthetic as concerning “the politics of the gaze, that gaze has usually been male.”

Similarly, for Joanne McNeill, the New Aesthetic is about “how culture is embracing the tools of today” [4] and how these tools “present [us with] a universe observed by the detached gaze of an indifferent being” [5].

The previous definitions of the New Aesthetic define the movement in terms of the virtual-reality divide, perception and the politics of the gaze – whether it be impersonally detached or highly gender oriented from a male-centric perspective – but the New Aesthetic can also be defined in terms of temporality. Therefore, the New Aesthetic is as an art movement that challenges temporality by attempting to ignore the past and imagine a new future based entirely on the present, or what Klint Finley calls the “endless digital now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient prosthetic memory.” [6] The New Aesthetic is when low-tech craft meets high tech tools and when new technologies don’t reference old techniques of computation. As James Bridle notes, the New Aesthetic is about creating a temporal separation from the past and finding an alternative to nostalgia. Although the products of the New Aesthetic may appear to be evoking a sense of nostalgia, they in fact evoke an entirely ‘new’ experience.

One example I would like to use to clarify this point is the hologram of the African-American rap star, Tupac Shakur that was displayed live on stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 15, 2012. [7] In spite of the fact that the ‘hologram’ was actually a CGI, 2-D video projection of Tupac using the illusionary technique called Pepper’s ghost, the performance was convincingly realistic as a technologically resurrected holographic simulation of a deceased rap-star. A viewer of the Tupac holographic performance, however, might consider this nostalgia and may not be concerned with the distinction between Tupac and ‘digital’ Tupac, when what they are witnessing is actually an entirely new experience temporally distinct from the past and preserved in the present through its digital nature. Tupac is immortalised through the use of digital technology and he is resurrected and presented to us in pixelated flesh through the mediation of a digital device, but it is not the ‘real’ Tupac. If it looks like Tupac, acts like Tupac and sounds like Tupac, but is not Tupac – what is it? Therefore, it can be said that a piece(?) of New Aesthetic art, like the Tupac hologram, cannot be separated from the technology used to create it.

I place a question mark after the word piece for the simple reason that, for me, the use of the word ‘piece’ connotes a ‘thing’ – a tangible, material object without life or consciousness. Is the Tupac hologram a thing? Is the New Aesthetic a thing?

David Berry et al., in New Aesthetics, New Anxieties [8] provides an interesting definition and criticism of the New Aesthetic. Berry et al. define the New Aesthetic as “a way of representing and mediating the world in and though the digital, that is understandable as an infinite archive (or collection)” (47). Berry et al., however, also question if the New Aesthetic is “a weak attempt at curating new media art online” (37) because “it merely documents and collects” (36) and “without [providing] some analysis or comprehension of these material and technical process of mediation” (38). For this reason, Berry et al. suggest, “there is no aesthetic there” (38).

Damien Walter, in “The New Aesthetic and I,” [9] defines the New Aesthetic as “the mediated objects which in one way or another return us to the actual complexity of reality”. Does the hologram of Tupac return us to the reality of his death, paradoxically conveyed by his simultaneous digital presence and physical absence?

Walter proposes that instead of asking, “What is the New Aesthetic?,” a better question would be to ask, “What will the New Aesthetic be when it stops being interesting?”. Walter challenges the newness or novelty of the New Aesthetic by claiming, ”this isn’t new. It’s been emerging for a generation”.

Therefore, if we agree with Berry et al.’s and Walter’s claims that the New Aesthetic is not ‘aesthetic’ or ‘new,’ and it’s status as a ‘thing’ is questionable, what are we left with it? Is this concept too overly enmeshed in our daily lives to be adequately labelled or defined?

[1] Sterling, Bruce. “An Essay on the New Aesthetic.” 

[1] Berry, David. “Computationality and the New Aesthetic.” 

[2] Ashby, Madeline. “The New Aesthetic of the Male Gaze.

[3] Finley, Klint. “The New Aesthetic and Future Fatigue.“.

[4] McNeill, Joanne. http://joannemcneil.com/index.php?/talks-and-such/new-aesthetic-at-sxsw-2012/

[5] Rafman, Jon. http://www.artfagcity.com/2009/08/12/img-mgmt-the-nine-eyes-of-google-street-view/

[6] Tupac Hologram, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

[7] Berry, David, et al. New Aesthetic, New Anxieties

[8] Walter, Damien G. “The New Aesthetic and I.” 

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