Two Readings for April 7th, 2009


1. Provide a quick over view or summary of the readings (3 – 5 sentences) (8pts)

Image of a horse from the Lascaux caves.
Image via Wikipedia

In Walter Benjamin‘s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) he contemplates the ways in which art as a concept, and an object is fundamentally classified by several factors, including state of uniqueness, state of originality, reproducibility, aura, method of recording, method of modifying, and effort. For instance, Benjamin argues that there is inherently greater artistic value for the viewer in seeing an original painting on canvas than there is in seeing a plate of the same painting in a magazine. He gives a stunning and interesting history of the ways in which technological advances in recording and reproduction have changed between the Lascaux cave drawings and the films of 1936.

Why the Digital Computer is Dead by Chris Chesher looks at the problematic usage of terms like digital images, computers, and analog in order to describe the tools, ideas and functions that they represent, because they are in a disconnect with the actual items or ideas, e.g. digital images may simply be digital representations of analog produced source images, such as paintings. They may also be mixtures of analog and digital ideas, such as a digitally represented word (such as Switzerland) in an analogic representative font (such as Helvetica) and trying to use a simple blanket statement to say that both ideas are part of a single concept, such as digital or analog, may be lacking. Chesher argues that the analogy of ‘invokational media’ where we call upon, or invoke, services and applications to do our bidding, may begin to bring a stronger understanding to those who use it than ‘computing’.

2. Clearly Identify what you feel are 3 key ideas in the readings (8pts)

The reproducibility of a creative work increases its availability while decreasing its uniquity, making it more commonplace, more accessible, and perhaps less beautiful. Theoretically, in a world of Brad Pitt clones (or xeroxed Jasper Johns paintings), anyone of any different facial appearance (or a Bruce Nauman piece) would be either a precious beauty of the highest order or a wildly interesting, though socially (or aesthetically) ugly specimen.

The original representative words for computing concepts from the 1970s are often the long lasting words that we still use today to descibe and communicate those concepts, but Chesher argues that words such as digital, analog, computer, word processor, etc. may be inadequate for representing what those ideas have grown into today, yet the words hang on as representative nomenclature.

If we can move from the idea of computer as simple tool to Chesher’s invokational media as an interface to having your every need attended to (if only you can remember the commands or URLs or click sequence) we may be able to move forward as a technological society. If we envision services as muses asked to meet our societal and cultural needs, we may do better than to simply see the machine in front of us as a hammer, but instead as a microphone with a multitude of winged listeners, awaiting our commands.

3. Support your summary and/or key points with three specific references to the readings (7pts)

Grave of Walter Benjamin in Portbou, Spain
Image via Wikipedia

So the digital computer is dead. I have hopefully shown that invocational media are characterised not by digitality nor computation, but by calling things up. The first order of invocation is the fetch-execute cycle. By putting command and memory into the same circuit, the invocatory device becomes invocational. The second order of the invocation is the invocationary act. Users compose invocations to do things, but in doing so depend upon avocations and invocable domains that pre-exist that event. Finally, third order invocations are the concepts invoked to hold together invocational platforms.

Address : <>
Date Visited: Sun Apr 05 2009 22:05:39 GMT-0400 (EDT)

Works of art are received and valued on different planes. Two polar types stand out; with one, the accent is on the cult value; with the other, on the exhibition value of the work. Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects destined to serve in a cult. One may assume that what mattered was their existence, not their being on view. The elk portrayed by the man of the Stone Age on the walls of his cave was an instrument of magic. He did expose it to his fellow men, but in the main it was meant for the spirits. Today the cult value would seem to demand that the work of art remain hidden.

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Date Visited: Sun Apr 05 2009 22:07:41 GMT-0400 (EDT)

The consequent relationship between a human and an electronic invocator is a quasi-magical refrain of the ancient cultural form of invocation. When someone utters a properly formed command, the invocator seems to respond to the user’s command. A web page is summoned. A document curls out of a laser printer. A song begins to play. The general purpose of these devices is to mediate invocations. But like the Muses, invocators are notoriously capricious, not always producing what the invoker had hoped.

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Date Visited: Sun Apr 05 2009 22:10:19 GMT-0400 (EDT)

4. Identify the most difficult or challenging concept for you from this week’s readings. Saying “I don’t know” or “nothing was difficult” is not an adequate response. (8pts)

I felt like the reading of the Benjamin piece was gratifying and interesting, but fairly difficult to read. Wrapping my head around concepts like the significance of the original when we are living in a world with YouTube where the original can not only be identically bit-for-bit copied but also transformed into a wholly new work when combined with other original works, or the significance of the role of writer being threatened by editorials in 1936 when we have editorials in the form of comments on virtually every web site, made it far harder to think about these concepts (originality, uniqity) in modern terms.

5. Provide 2 or 3 discussion questions for us to talk about in class (6pts)

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 15: A man holds his hand u...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

If a painting is unique, and the film exposed in a camera is unique but the print from the film is simply a duplicate, and if Benjamin’s argument that duplicates are of lesser value than that of originals, consider the following. In the case of digital video recorded directly to memory hich can be reproduced indefinitely without any difference between the original bit sequence and any copy’s bit sequence, is the reproduced work equal in value to the original or is the original lessened in value with each reproduction?

If you were to design a new interface for what we call computing, in which Chesher’s ideal of the invokational media magical analogy was the framework, what would the invoker look like while using it, what would she be doing, what peripherals would be used, if any, and how would the invokational devices be switched on.

6. Discuss how this week’s readings might relate to your upcoming presentation, paper or to the “real world.” Here too, saying “I don’t know” or “it does not apply” is not an adequate response. (8pts)

I feel like the Benjamin piece puts blogging, digital copying, and digital video in a wholly new perspective. If I pause in the creation of my :30 second clip to consider Benjamin’s thoughts on the differences between a rendering of a hand, a photo of a hand, and a film of a hand, I can take my clip from the utilitarian to the sublime by a change in angle, in light, in lens, in degree of focus, and bring about a new, deeper meaning to the clip.

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

If I discard the notions of computing as we know them, disowning the concepts of digital versus analog, and simply think of the interface as a point of invokation for my needs and my bidding to be done, I may become a more powerful, more spiritual, more connected user… er. invoker.

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NY Times Editor Hints At Return Of Online Access Fees


Again, in the context of our discussions in class about convergence, here is a clear example where the financial, industrial, communication, media, and technology aspects of running a newspaper today ask the editors and leaders of papers like the New York Times to consider how the ease of access, the lack of payment for said access, and the ability for news to be gotten in a thousand places for free all point to a need for creativity in solving the reimbursement problem. Technology, traditional business models, and new practices are converging to cause a change in the industry.

In an online question-and-answer exchange with readers this week, Keller said that although advertising generates the bulk of online revenue, “a lively, deadly serious discussion continues within The Times about ways to get consumers to pay for what we make.”

Possibility include charging for full-access subscriptions, developing a micro-payment model in which readers pay a few pennies each time they click on a page and selling news to be distributed on reading devices, as the Times already does with Inc.’s Kindle.

via NY Times Editor Hints At Return Of Online Access Fees.