New Media Seminar Week 7: What Did I Learn This Week?

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We had an interesting week here in the Penn State New Media Seminar Week about our satisfaction with the program. My own personal take is that even though I have some questions about some aspects, the experience has had enough positives for it to be worthwhile.

This week's reading was Will There Be Condominums in Data Space? by video artist Bill Viola (whose material is on YouTube). As usual, it sparked a lot of interesting discussion, but the reading itself left me somewhat detached.

I'd love to summarize the reading itself, but I truly found it hard to follow. At some point he discusses the contrast between communicating with Japanese modern technology and communicating with the dead in an ancient Japanese ritual. Later he discusses memory space and time comparing Western realism (capture a moment exactly) vs Oriental (East Asian) art which captures an essence which remains eternal time. At some point "notation systems" entered the picture and then non-linear presentation.

Maybe the most interesting quote from Viola was

When I edited a tape with the computer, for the first time in my life I saw that my video piece had a "score", a pattern, a structure that could be written on paper.

As my colleague Dave Stong pointed out, this apparently "blew his mind." And I do understand Viola's point that technology's ability capture moments in time as they happen allows us to understand our actions better. When I look at my blog entries from several years ago, I do notice how some patterns have changed and others remained the same. Sometimes I revisit things that I have forgotten.

This is something that has been available to anyone able to record something at the moment (e.g. diarists, annual chronicles/survey), but this must have been new to Viola, and perhaps to many of us as well. This point alone is worth investigating.

So why am I so detached from this article and so many others? I'm sure it's mostly due to desire for a more analytic, scientific paper. It's been suggested that I should be more patient and give the paper more time and effort. Perhaps.

But a fascinating thing I noticed is that we all pulled different ideas from the paper based on our past experiences and perceptions. Some felt Viola was heading towards the type of interactivity found in video games, and others felt he was talking about perception of time. A few thought some of us were in outer space (and they had a point because I knew I was wildly extrapolating).

If this paper were "art", this would be a very good reaction. But should the the theory of New Media be "art" or should it be more like traditional science? What I mean is that in the sciences, there is a genuine attempt to build a common sense of understanding through a common methodologies. There are plenty of debates about both results and methodologies, but the results seem much more accessible to me.

But I don't think any of the readings I have completed have been that. Viola's paper seems to be a stream of consciousness with very academic terminology. Yes Viola touches on some interesting ideas, but his anecdotes seem very random and not systematically compared.

Yes the Japanese have rites to communicate with the dead, but so does our culture. Why assume otherwise? The answer is that people tend to have a blind spot for their own culture - which can be dangerous. And why bring it up? Is it to mention the contrast between cultures? Between communication media? OK, but what's the next step? If the issue is managing new tech, would it make sense to see what happened before and see how it was resolved?

I think that's where a lot of frustration is coming from with the readings, at least with me. There seems to be a lot of "vision", but almost a vision without a context. We can tell from the papers that they didn't always predict the future, but I think I knew that as well.

One challenge that has come up is to suggest what we would prefer. I expect not everyone will agree, but here is some of my list.

None of this means, I will be dropping out of the experience, but I will likely remain skeptical.

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