February 25, 2011

Will honest media really save the public sphere?

In Digital Media and Democracy Meghan Boler brings to light her concerns about the constant struggle for legitimate, honest media. She is worried, together with numerous other media professionals, that media ownership dictates the content of the news, and as a result we get news that are highly biased and profit-motivated. The book is made up from various interviews with journalists and newsmakers, most of whom share pessimistic views about the recent hype of media democratization. The book seems to be of the mind-view that honest media will save the world by positively affecting the public sphere. Megan Boler finds some solace in contemporary satire and comedy shows like the Daily Show with John Stewarts that are some of the few media outlets that can actually shed true light on current events.

However, in my mind, miss Boler presents only one side of the coin…

January 20, 2011

Digital Wasteland

Where do our trashed bits go?  I’d like to know. I mean obviously they don’t run off anywhere from our computers. But what happens to the representations they stored that have vanished quick as ice, melted by the lack of a need to save them? Aren’t we being a bit rude to some of our files? Just to empty up some disk space, just to feel the slight quickening of your machine emptied from some extra weight. Especially if you’ve got video files as big as whales. Delete the extra video files only for them to submerge you outside on the street, as you walk out the main door and dive into the memory of what you just did. Or some photographs you worked on for a while, now stretched around you like cyber web canvas, glowing and pulsating like blue sea creatures. Text files both organized like virtual paper, and lines of words and sounds stretched in a temporal dimension, like the receding frames of a movie.  And you’re walking through all of it, seeing it through your augmented reality equipped sunglasses.  Of course that would mean they would be taking up new bits, now representing virtual objects in the hyper-real space all around you.

I’ve had this dream for a while. Imagine walking through files and bits of code. But unlike the stylized flow of “0”s and “1”s in The Matrix, your ever-flowing digital trash is shaped into realistic, virtual representations of the contents of the file. So that if it was a picture, you’d see it next to you, stretched on invisible canvas, and if it was a word file you’d see it as a page floating nearby containing the actual or scrambled text. Mp3, MPEG, avi, jpg, doc, wav, bmp, wmv, and so on… all of these files could be seen in the augmented reality around you.

Privacy of course will be a big issue, because you wouldn’t want all of your files exposed in the after-world of digits.  The repository will exist both on the internet itself, in the wasteland part of it, and also in the real world sewn into the fabric of the 3d world around us seen through the latest smartphone cameras, or augmented reality glasses. You would have several choices in the way you delete information and who gets to see remnants of it and even have the right to restore it in some way.  Court files, financial transactions, and other private documents will not make it into the public digital wasteland unless you decide it’s ok for them to.

These are files that everyone is deleting. Constantly, every minute, every second. Today all over the world copious amounts of digital trash are produced. Heaps, mounds of it. Sometimes the files are deleted forever not to be ever seen or restored again, but mostly they are cached on some mirror servers even after being deleted.  Why not preserve it in the augmented reality realm all around us? You’d be able to do things with it that at first wouldn’t make any sense. Why would you care about someone’s deleted essay or the beginnings of a design project?  Why should you care about a song someone hasn’t finished writing, or someone’s tossed digital painting?  It’s a bit like found art isn’t it?  Maybe new artists will appear to spend time to build elaborate virtual sculptures from somebody’s scratched and discarded ideas?  I think beat-makers and electronic musicians would love to be able to mix and sample trashed files that belong to someone important.  It’s even possible that a new kind of a writer will emerge.  He’d write about the digital wasteland as today’s writer does about death and resurrection.  A world that we reject and discard may keep the secret to our salvation.  And if the real world suddenly faced the risk of extinction, at least this synthetic, augmented after-world, would exist as proof of man’s vanity.

January 19, 2011

Got bits?

I haven’t really thought about our world the way the authors of Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion suggest we all do. Remember the days of TV and flipping through different channels, and how TV stations fought over these channels? Or the reel-tape archives at libraries that required special bulky viewers, or the days of fax machines? Well, all of that old technology has been replaced by bits – the tiny “on” and “off” memory states that today define everything around us. TV stations no longer fight for channels, but wage wars about ownership of pixels (made up from bits) on our TV screens. Libraries store all of their information in long sequences of bits that are accessible from anywhere in the world, and fax machines are plain unreliable because they can’t match the perfect replication quality of bits.  Bits are: perfect, plenty, powerful, and here for ever. They seem so simple that often we misinterpret and misunderstand their meaning. After all, none of us have ever seen or touched the bit. At least I don’t know of anyone who has. Have you got bit?

to be continued…