In January 2012 I was interviewed by Alex Howard, O’Reilly Media’s Government 2.0 correspondent, about the state of data journalism. The interview was published on 14 February on O’Reilly Radar.
Last week I attended Visualizing Europe, a one-day conference where a very interesting and diverse group of data visualization experts and designers talked about the power and potential of data visualization.
What is new about new media? As the term “new media” contains powerful ideological connotations, such as “new equals better,” the boundaries between old and new media have been intensely discussed in media studies. Are the old and the new media completely separate entities or are new media old media delivered with new technologies? Bolter and Grusin’s theory of remediation brings yet another way of thinking about new media and answering these questions. For Bolter and Grusin the specificity of new media, their “newness,” lies in the way they remediate older media. Building on McLuhan, they define remediation as “the representation of one medium in another.” Against the technologically progressive view which celebrates new media as an improvement on and a complete break with old media, this notion sets the grounds for conceptualizing the relationship between old and new media not as oppositional but as part of a media genealogy, focusing, in Foucauldian fashion, on their connections and affiliations instead.
The advent of digital media revived the interest for medium specificity as materiality of a medium in media studies, most influentially discussed until now by Marshall McLuhan. As Katherine Hayles rightfully points out, in the literary criticism environment it was the emergence of an alternative medium for supporting literary work, the electronic medium, which helped to make visible the medium specific assumptions of print and the dependence of the meaning of a literary text on the material apparatus used to produce it.
In doing research for my master thesis on smart houses as technologies of government ‘at a distance’ last year (which you can read here), I found it very difficult to find materials which treated this topic from a media and cultural studies perspective, as well as historically, which is what determined me to share this list with you. Most of the publications on smart houses treat the technical, design and technological innovation aspects of the subject and are usually written by technology designers as documentation for their experimental projects. There are extremely few books dedicated to smart houses as sole subject of investigation from a media and cultural studies perspective, but you may find references to the topic in books which treat broader related topics such as (new) media, domestic technologies, augmented reality, ambient intelligence or ubiquitous computing, and, more recently, life-assisting technologies for the elderly. Below are some of the most useful materials I consulted for a historical and critical media and cultural studies perspective on the topic:
In the final session of the conference, Sabine Niederer presented the launch of the first book dedicated entirely to the urban screens theme, The Urban Screens Reader. The book was edited by Scott McQuire and Meredith Martin from the University of Melbourne and Sabine Niederer from the Institute of Network Cultures. The Urban Screens Reader contains three sections: ‘Urban Screens: History, Technology, Politics’, ‘Sites’, and ‘Publics and Participation: Interactivity, Sociability and Strategies in Locative Media.’ The book in pdf will be soon available for free download on the INC website.
The Urban Screens conference which took place in Amsterdam on the 4th of December this year is the fourth in a series of events which has been organized around the theme of display screens (LED signs, plasma screens, projection boards, intelligent architectural surfaces, etc.) in urban spaces. It supports the idea of using public space as a platform for creation and cultural exchange, strengthening the local economy and encouraging public discussion. Since the first Urban Screens event in 2005 in Amsterdam, related international conferences have taken place in Manchester in 2007 and Melbourne in 2008. The series of events encourages the exploration of opportunities to employ the growing infrastructure of large digital displays in public space currently used mainly as a tool to influence consumer behavior through advertising, and expand them by displaying cultural and artistic content with the purpose of revitalizing public space, and generating public engagement and interaction.
Paul Klotz is an applied art engineer and light designer who specializes in interactive light installations for public spaces. By means of light and sound installations which create a feedback loops between the passerby and the installation upon physical interaction with the artwork, he attempts to set up in public spaces artistic zones which captivate, entertain and enrich human experience. The Tunnel Vision installation for example is a light and sound installation which responds to the individual’s hand movements within it by sound and light alterations.
Juha Van ‘t Zelfde spoke at the Urban Screens conference in Amsterdam (December 4, 2009) in behalf of VURB, a foundation located in Amsterdam which focuses on policy and design research concerning urban computational systems. His presentation focused on what might be called ‘urban informatics’. VURB endorses the development of ‘urban informatics’ as a potential discipline concerned with the issue of management of all the data related to urban environments generated by inhabitants and visitors of a city, now mobile technology users. This content generated by means of ubiquitous computing, sensor technologies and mobile media transforms the urban environment by adding another virtual layer to the urban space. The foundation is involved in investigating precisely how these networked digital resources are changing the way we understand, build and inhabit cities and attempts to find creative ways to manage and use all the user generated data related to urban sites and include it in the process of shaping future cities.
In investigating the role of all the user generated data adding another dimension to the city space in shaping the city of the future, VURB is attempting to create an interactive platform to accommodate, administer and make available and searchable all this data. Juha Van ‘t Zelfde mentioned something like an app store, a platform on top of which people can build other applications.
VURB does not only attempt to provide a framework for policy and design research but it envisions itself also as a connector linking municipalities and other actors interested in the theme of the city as interface. The foundation is also involved in promoting the theme by means of public events. One of these events will take place in 2010 and will be a one day marathon on the theme of the ‘cloud city’.
Theo Watson is one of the members of Graffiti Research Lab, an art group which brings together hacking and graffiti writing into digital graffiti as a form of communication in urban spaces. The organization is based in New York and now has other nodes Mexico, Vienna, and Amsterdam, where Theo is located.
The group experiments with digital technologies, L.E.D. lights, software, projectors and magnets as tools for artistic expression at urban level. Their projects, which were exhibited at several modern art festivals, are detailed by videos on their website. The L.A.S.E.R. Tag project for example enables writing on urban surfaces such as building facades or walls by means of computer vision technology, projectors and a laser pointer:
But what makes the group’s activity truly valuable is the fact that the artist – engineers develop free tools with open-source technologies which can be used by graffiti writers. Their website documents all their projects and offers the tools for free download. The group has even posted tutorials on the DIY website instructables.com on
This does not make digital graffiti accessible to anyone however because a certain level of practical understanding of the technology is necessary to operate and adapt the tools. The pratice is more of a ‘geek’ – oriented graffiti, to use the words of one of the founders of the group, Evan Roth. Moreover, the high prices of acquisition for some of the equipment, such as the projectors, which can get to 7000 euros, make them still inaccessible to many.