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Downtime

November 19, 2012 5 comments

When things break down, they are much more interesting than the gadgets that function, channel and regulate our lives. Broken things might poetically and with a Heideggerian hum say to reveal their essence. This is the other side of the apocalyptic – to be understood as “apo-kalyptein – an uncovering or disclosing of what had previously been hidden.” (Gere 2008: 13)

It is in this sense that we should talk of “downtime” not as an accidental misfortune, a temporary hiccup and denial of service of intentional nature or just infrastructural/hardware failure. Instead, it is part of how media, tech and things just are (in consumer cultures); that they break down, fail in their intended task, and refuse to switch on. Indeed downtime is the time of permanent breaking down, crisis and one is tempted to start unraveling a wider transversal notion of downtime from the microscale of technological circuits to macroscales of economy. But indeed, if it is a transversal notion it cuts across such traditional divisions of micro and macro and forces a different dimensionality. A molecular level of connections which forces the technological to be tightly articulated as part of political economy; an articulation of politics must take into account the technological conditioning of itself – the political action; the (media) technological  sustains and operates the processes of subjectification; the social starts from the circuit.

An installation, Downtime (post-domestic fiction), I saw as part of Amber 2012 exhibition in Istanbul, November 2012, plays with the idea of broken down electronic and other gadgets, from scientific measurement units to an old telephone, television, kitchen utensils (a hand mixer) and an old Spectrum ZX computer. The practice relates to the recent years of circuit bending and hardware hacking, as well as critical design/(re)making, from Garnet Hertz to Benjamin Gaulon and glitchers Jon Satrom to Rosa Menkman, and it might be said to relate to zombie media too–repurposing discarded/dysfunctional gadgets.

For the group, “downtime refers to the period of time during which a system remains unavailable or fails to provide or perform its primary function.”
 The installation covers a wall with its recircuited works, reminescent of for instance ReFunct Media 2.0. Indeed, this is the interesting bit; it is not so much about the object, but the materiality of its dysfunctionality is articulated as a temporal relation; “the period during which…”. Even downtime unfolds as a duration.

I would argue that there is a twisted permanence, or at least a horizon, a duration, of such a downtime that is as significant as its functionality.  “Through the active participation of the viewer, the objects are examined within a new context, in terms of how these are kept active and accessible by its reuse and manipulation”, the group writes. We of course need to investigate the wider sense and rationale of why things should be kept active, and the horizon of that. For me, the interesting bit is as said the temporal dimension, and the new materialist discourse and media technological theory  needs to be able to tackle with this too. Whether it is about the temporality of the accident, or the break down, downtime — or then the microtemporality Wolfgang Ernst is after (see also Algorhythmics).

Indeed, the accident and downtime is not only an event that disrupts the running of temporality, but incorporates its own duration that we have to understand too. Downtime is a switch concept for notions of time – functional and dysfunctional, and as such tries to act as an anthropological operator for cultural techniques of temporality.

Operational Management of Life

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment


Management of life — in terms of processes, decisions and consequences — is probably an emblematic part of life in post-industrial societies. Increasingly, such management does not take place only on the level individuality, but dividuality — i.e. managing the data clouds, traces, and avataric transpositions of subjectivity in online environments. This is the context in which J. Nathan Matias’ talk on operational media design made sense (among other contexts of course), and provided an apt, and exciting, example of how through media design we are able to understand wider social processes.

Nathan addressed “operationalisation” as a trend that can be incorporated in various platforms from SMS to online self-management and operationalisation. More concretely, “operational media” can be seen as a management, filtering and decision mechanism that can be incorporated into services and apps of various kinds. Nathan’s talk moved from military contexts of “command and control” (operationalisation of strategic ways into tactical operations) to such Apps as the blatantly sexist Pepsi Amp up before you score which allowed the (male) user to find “correct” and functional responses to a variety of female types. In addition to such, Nathan’s talk was able to introduce the general idea of computer assisted information retrieval and management which to me was a great way of branding a variety of trends into “operational media”. He talked about visualisation of data, augmented reality, filtering of data, expert, crowd and computer assisted information gathering, and a variety of other contexts in which the idea works.

“Should I eat this croissant” considering its calories, the needed time I need to work out to get it again out of my system, the time available etc. is one example of operationalisation of decisions in post-fordist societies of high-tech mobile tools that tap into work and leisure activities.

Another example is the service offered by Nathan’s employed KGB (not the spies, but Knowledge Generation Bureau. See their recent Superbowl ad here. The KGB service is one example of mobile based operational services which in the character space of an SMS try to provide accurate answers to specific questions and hence differ from e.g. search engines.

Of course, one could from a critical theory perspective start to contextualise “operational media”. Is it a form of digital apps enhanced behavioralism that does not only assume but strengthens assumptions about the possibility of streamlining complex human actions? Is it a mode of media design that further distances management of life into external services? Is it hence a form of biopower of commercial kinds that ties in with the various processes from the physiological to cultural such as labour and provides its design-solutions for them? In any case, Nathan’s expertise in this field was a very enjoyable, and a good demonstration of a scholar/designer working in software studies.