Sunday, November 16, 2008

Virtual Worlds, Digital Literature and Journalism

This session is about media environments, that is how media has become a network of information flows which can be arranged and incorporated in relation to each other. The digital media environment is spatial, distributed, social, and extreamly participatory. A good example of a media environment is the online virtual 3D virtual world:

A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact via avatars. These avatars are usually depicted as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional graphical representations, although other forms are possible[1] (auditory[2] and touch sensations for example). Some, but not all, virtual worlds allow for multiple users.

The future for journalism is exciting, complex and very horizontal. You may want to aquaint yourself with some of the possibilities with the paper, The Future of Public Media FAQ, which looks at the situation in the USA.

What will public media look like around the corner? How will public platforms in mass media adapt? How will new participatory platforms evolve to serve the needs of democratic publics? What resources and what policies are needed to survive? These questions inform the project.

I research online virtual worlds, specifically social worlds and to be exact; Second Life: ( Second Life (SL) is popular for branding research, simulation, social networking, learning, streaming media, sex stuff and academic work (the last two are not related as far as I can see).
Here are is a list of 35+ virtual social worlds:

Some people say that virtual worlds have peaked as far as media penetration, marketing and education are concerned but I do not think this is right. The problem is that a lot of companies and institutions jumped on the bandwagon two or three years ago. They tried to run traditional programs (billboards, streaming radio into the world, building a building that looks like the MTV studio in Times Square etc etc) without thinking specifically about the media for what it can and can’t do and how people are using it. I think over the next two years there will be a rise in companies and projects that specialize in working in 3D virtual environments. As technologies improve they will spread to broader applications including traditional news broadcasting and journalism.

More on virtual worlds today in this article (which I agree with):

Perhaps one of the best use of Second Life for spreading information, engaging with a public, managing a brand, promoting culture and building a user base is the Second House of Sweden.

One of the world’s first 3D online embassies – the Second House of Sweden – opened in 2007 in the virtual world of Second Life. Guests from around the world are invited to create an avatar and pay a visit.

The virtual Second House of Sweden is an almost exact replica of the embassy building, House of Sweden, located in Washington, D.C.Inside, however, there are some notable differences, namely the ability to fly between floors with your avatar. Virtual world visitors can sweep around the premises, which currently include a photography exhibit with images from Sweden; an exhibit about the life of Raoul Wallenberg, arranged in cooperation with OSA Archivum, the Open Society’s archives in Budapest; and an art exhibit curated by the National Museum. (Source)

The Second House of Sweden published some statistics of use after the first year it was online.

Overall, we get between 300 and 400 visitors per day to our two sims. Around 80 people per day register via our branded online registration page; the others teleport in. These numbers are an order of magnitude smaller than the visitor numbers of the websites that the Swedish Institute manages, but such a comparison would be deceptive, for two reasons:

1. The pool of potential visitors for the Second House of Sweden is limited to Second Life users, and conservative numbers put that figure at around 1 million regular users, vs the 1.25 billion that use the internet.
2. The experiences of visiting the Second House of Sweden is best compared to visiting a real space, because that is what it is trying to emulate. How many visitors does a real-world cultural center get in a day? What is the cost involved in servicing these visitors? What would the cost be to bring visitors from far-flung places, where there are no such cultural centers, to a real-world cultural center? When these kinds of questions are asked, building a virtual embassy makes eminent sense.

Several metrics support our conclusion that the embassy makes for a good proxy for a real-world Swedish cultural experience (See them here).

As well as the embassy of Sweden in Second Life more traditional sources of news media are establishing a presence in world. The news bureau Reuters kept a reporter and an office in Second Life for a year and a half, following stories as they developed in the virtual world. The office was closed recently, but the choice to use the Second Life platform as a source of news shows inovation and a development within journalism.

Welcome to the Reuters Atrium!

Here you can pick up a copy of the Reuters News HUD and two home versions, the Wall Display and Floor Display. They will give you access to exchange rate information for the Linden dollar, Second Life news written by bureau chief Adam Reuters and a range of Reuters real-world news.

Inside the Atrium, you will find a video screen carrying Reuters news as well as discussion areas for various news categories. The discussion areas may be used as general-interest areas for these news topics, or in conjunction with the HUD and home display, which allow you to indicate interest in a specific story, and dispense landmarks to teleport to a chat area to discuss that story.

Reuters' goal is to provide fast, accurate and unbiased news to benefit the community and the fast-growing Second Life financial sector. Adam Reuters will hold regular office hours within the Atrium; his calendar is available here:
Throughout the island there are bits of video - top Reuters news in the main atrium and some interesting clips in other areas. Be sure to push 'play' on your movie control to view these.

Please contact Adam Reuters with questions about Reuters in Second Life.

Enjoy your stay!

Other established media sources such as CNN and Skynews are also in Second Life.

One of the other areas I have been studying is Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG). Not sure if you know about it but it has proved very successful in both promotion and spreading ideas. The most famous ARG so far has been I Love Bees

More on ARGs here:

The woman who designed I Love Bees came to HUMlab a couple of years ago and gave a presentation, its streamed (English) here:

Jane is currently involved with the ARG Superstruct:

Superstruct is the world's first massively multiplayer forecasting game. By playing the game, you'll help us chronicle the world of 2019--and imagine how we might solve the problems we'll face. Because this is about more than just envisioning the future. It's about making the future, inventing new ways to organize the human race and augment our collective human potential.

The thing with so much networked, viral, and so on digital media is that the public have to feel like they are involved in a creative sense. If they are making something happen or making things or getting something then it is more likely to happen. Digital artifacts cost very little to produce and they can be copied endlessly, as the record industry is still finding it hard to deal with. Participation is the key and handing power over to the audience by giving them the tools. It a new form of authorship in a sense. There are similarities to performance and drama but it is centered on the materials of the media. That’s the script the public gets. There is a great book called The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, which is online for download:
It can be academic in places but it provides a good base for ideas.

As well I recommend the work of Howard Rheingold:

Here is Howard speaking about the media literacy (mp3). Howard teaches digital journalism and here is the wiki he uses in his classes.

To get a good and up to date introduction to the intense world of social media and online applications check out Mashable:
Another great blog for coming to an understanding of social media, online media, networked media and virtual world media is Techcrunch:

As well RSS is important:
I use RSS in my teaching. As well as wikis:

Web 2.0
Web 2.0 describes the changing trends in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aim to enhance creativity, secure information sharing, collaboration and functionality of the web. Web 2.0 concepts have led to the development and evolution of web-based communities and hosted services, such as social-networking sites, video sharing sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies. The term became notable after the first O'Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference in 2004. Although the term suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specifications, but rather to changes in the ways software developers and end-users utilize the Web.
For many examples and essays on Web 2.0 see:

Cultural and Business Examples of Web 2.0 in Action:
“Persistent dissatisfaction with “business as usual” in the music industry ultimately led them to abandon the conventional music industry altogether, in favor of something new: a subscription service run from their website,, offering fans the chance to become—in essence—the group’s patrons, contributing fees in exchange for webcam performances, access to rehearsals, and other benefits. Their most recent album, Alles Wieder Offen, is available through retail stores, but not through anything resembling a major label: they’ve cut their ties with longtime label Mute and gone into business for themselves. (And the fans on, as you might expect, were given a splendid exclusive edition of the album, with bonus tracks and a DVD.) By eliminating the middleman and bringing their music as directly to the customer/fan as possible—either through Internet access or their independently-distributed CD release—they’ve hit on a new way of doing business. They’re not alone: acts as diverse as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Saul Williams are all exploring ways of eliminating as much corporate interference from their work as possible. But Neubauten, it must be noted, did it first, and they haven’t looked back yet.”

“In media cultures of late, the synergy between two global dominant industries – mobile communication and gaming – has attracted much attention and stargazing. As part of burgeoning global media cultures, gaming and mobile media are divergent in their adaptation at the level of the local. In some locations where broadband infrastructure is strong and collectivity is emphasized (such as South Korea), online multiplayer games prevail. In locations where convergent mobile technologies govern such as Japan, mobile gaming platforms dominate.”
Larissa is Australian and based in Melbourne: (very cool person)

Mobile video needs to be thought about here:
Mobile technologies are developing at a very fast pace at the moment. GIS (Global Information System) GPS (Global Positioning System), Radio-frequency identification Devices (RFID), mobile phones and other hand held devices, global mapping technologies (such as Google Earth) and other geo-spatial digital technologies have created a large field of possibilities for media development in the area of the mobile.
Here’s a lot of links on mobile applications:

Have you come across Flash Mobs? Very fun:
Very good for promotions: with the group involved, then the people witnessing the flash mob and then the videos that get put online and the traditional media that cover it in stories. Pick a good place at the right time with enough people and it could be huge.

Then there is other social and networked media: I have been using Twitter mirco-blogging is catching on. It took me a while to see the beauty of it but it does really work. Twitter is mobile. One culture producer who understands this is the British comic book author and novelist Warren Ellis, he has 9000 + people following him on Twitter, plus a blog and a forum for discussion around what is on the blog. He asks his fans to send in music and he makes compilations of their music which is then streamed from the forum site and released as free downloads on the blog. Here is his blog:
More on micro-blogging:

More on networks:

The thing is with digital media the specific circumstances determine the conditions of use. How old is the audience involved, how educated, how connected with internet, how fast is the connection, how many platforms should be involved…many many questions. Of course the other thing is that with social and participatory media the people behind the publication have to be prepared to let things go a bit. It’s a bit about losing control of the image and the product you are creating and handing it over to the public. The digital tools are handed over to the audience and they follow the logical structures that are embedded in their design. For this reason design is very important

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Space and Place in Architexture

And do you know what "the world" is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself; as a whole, of unalterable size, a household without expenses or losses, but likewise without increase or income; enclosed by "nothingness" as by a boundary; not something blurry or wasted, not something endlessly extended, but set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a space that might be "empty" here or there, but rather a force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many, increasing here and at the same time decreasing there [...]. Frederick Nietzsche, The Will to Power.





Lefebvre's argument in The Production of Space is that space is a social product, or a complex social construction (based on values, and the social production of meanings) which affects spatial practices and perceptions. As a Marxist philosopher (but highly critical of the economic structuralism that dominated the academic discourse in his period), Lefebvre argues that this social production of urban space is fundamental to the reproduction of society, hence of capitalism itself. Therefore, the notion of hegemony as proposed by Antonio Gramsci is used as a reference to show how the social production of space is commanded by a hegemonic class as a tool to reproduce its dominance." Wikipedia
Lefbvre writes: “social space is not a thing among other things, nor a product among other products: rather, it subsumes things produced and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity—their (relative) order and/or (relative) disorder” (p.73). Lefebvre objects to the reification of space by rejecting the Cartesian model, separating “ideal space” from “real space.” Instead, space is a product of something that is produced materially while at the same time “operate[s]…on processes from which is cannot separate itself because it is a product of them” (p.66). (Thinking Culture)

"We are forever hearing about the space of this and/or the space of that; about literary space, ideological space, the space of the dream, psychoanalytic topologies, and so on and so forth. Conspicuous by its absence from supposedly fundamental epistemological studies is not only the idea of 'man' but also that of space -- the fact that 'space' is mentioned on every page notewithstanding [...] Consider how fond the cognoscenti are of talk of pictural space, Picasso's space [...] Elsewhere we are forever hearing of architectural, plastic or literary 'spaces'; the term is used as much as one might speak of a writer's or artist's 'world.' Specialized works keep their audience abreast of all sorts of equally specialized spaces: leisure, work, play, transportation, public facilities -- all are spoken of in spatial terms. Even illness and madness are supposed by some specialists to have their own peculiar space. We are thus confronted by an indefinite multitudes of spaces, each one piled upon, or perhaps contained within, the next: geographical, economic, demographic, sociological, ecological, political, commercial, national, continental, global. Not to mention nature's (physical) space, the space of (energy) flows, and so on."
The Production of Space

Lefebvre identifies three forms of space; the mathematical, the mental and the social (14), which are dialectically related to each other through the codes used to experience them. These codes rest on two conceptions of space; the representations and the representational.

"Because Lefebvre is referring to not only the empirical disposition of things in the landscape as 'space' (the physical aspect) but also attitudes and habitual practices, his metaphoric l'espace might be better understood as the spatialisation of social order. In this movement to space, abstract structures such as "culture" become concrete practices and arrangements in space. Social action involves not just a rythm but also geometry and spacing. Spatialisation also captures the process nature of l'espace that Lefebvre insists is a matter of ongoing activities. That is, it is not just an achieved order in the built environment, or an ideology, but also an order that is itself always undergoing change from within through the actions and innovations of social agents. In short, all 'space' is social space, and a systemic approach is nesessary that avoids a partial, discipline-based analysis (...) and keeps the intersections on space with an overaching regime or spatialisation in sight." (Rob Shields, Lefebvre: Love and Struggle - Spatial Dialectics Routledge 1999: 154-155).

1. Spatial practice refers to the production and reproduction of spatial relations between objects and products. It also ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion. “In terms of social space, and of each member of a given society’s relationship to that space, this cohesion implies a guaranteed level of competence and a specific level of performance” (p.33).

2. Space as a mediated form is tricky because it is both experienced and understood simultaneously. You cannot experience a space and understand it as something else, other than what you experience it as. The same goes for mental space; when it is thought/understood it is experienced. However, space is produced and it is so by a set of relations mediated through codes according to Lefebvre.

3. Lived space (Representational space): as directly lived through its associated images and symbols. The experience of space in the traditional emotional and religious manner. Formed by everyday life. The space of the everyday activities of "users" (or "inhabitants") - a concrete one, i.e. subjective. The "users" naively experienced space. The dominated - and hence passively experienced - space, making symbolic use of its objects. The representational space is the space that the inhabitants have in their minds. (Gronlund, 1999) Representational spaces refer to spaces “lived” directly “through its associated images and symbols and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’…” (p.39). These are the lived experiences that emerge as a result of the dialectical relation between spatial practice and representations of spaces.

Think Museum and You Think Space

4. Represented Space: Representations of space are certainly abstract, but they also play a part in social and political practice. Representations of space are tied to the relations of production and to the "order" which those relations impose, and hence to knowledge, to signs, to codes, and to "frontal" relations. The producers of space have always acted in accordance with a representation. Such representations are thus objective, though subject to revision and have a practical impact.. The space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers, as of a certain type of artist with scientific bent, all of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived. This is the dominant space in any society (or mode of production). Empty space in the sense of a mental and social void which facilitates the socialization of a not-yet-social realm and is actually also merely a representation of space.

5. At the center of social space is the Body.

This video is a response to a university module regarding the Production of Space. It traces the paths of shoppers in the Drake Circus centre in Plymouth, UK in an attempt to visualise the directional choices we make and show how they are affected by what we consider to be our 'personal space'.

We could go much deeper into 'Space' but maybe that's enough to break the surface of a topic that is really really big.

Place is different from Space but at the same time they rely on each other in order to be separate (in a dialectical sense).

Place: The oldest known theorising about 'place' is the treatise of Archytas of Tarentum, a Pythagorean thinker who lived in the Fourth Century BC. Like of the treatise of Anaximander, only fragments of it have survived. The fragments were written down by Simplicius who also saved the 'Anaximander fragment' for latecomers (Casey 1993: 14).
The main idea in the remaining fragments of Archytas' treatise is the logical conclusion that place is prior to all things. This follows from the assertion that 'to be is to be in place'. Nothing exists if it does not exist in place. From this follows that 'place' itself is nothing. If it was something, it would have to be in a place that would have to be in a place and so on ad infinitum. Archytas' ideas are also repeated by Aristotle in his Physics (Casey 1993: 14). According to Edward S. Casey (1993: 16), however, the views of Archytas and Aristotle differ in that while Aristotle takes place as a container of things, Archytas stresses that a thing constitutes its own place: the limit-of-being of a thing is the place that it constitutes since the unlimited is nothing.

'Place' is a concept that is so deeply entrenched in culture that it is impossible to give any straightforward definition of it. Due to its fundamental status in ontology, it is a rather basic concept used for defining other concepts. To understand its meaning, however, it is revealing to study its relation with other concepts close to it. 'Landscape' is one of the most important ones.

"The power a place such as a mere room possesses determines not only where I am in the limited sense of cartographic location but how I am together with others (i.e. how I commingle and communicate with them) and even who we shall become together. the "how" and the "who" are intimately tied to the "where", which gives to them a special content and a coloration not available form any other source. Place bestows upon them "a local habitation and a name" by establishing a concrete situatedness in the common world. This emplacement is as social as it is personal. The ideolocal is not merely idiosyncratic or individual; it is also collective in character." Edward S. Casey, Getting Back into Place: Towards a New Understanding of the Place-World. (23)

While place is not simply a question of location, it is a product, among the many described by both Casey and Lefebvre, of the formation of location (name, history, relation to places around it, use etc). Location becomes valuable for its place-ness. But location cannot be represented in the same sense as place can. Place is a referential construction that not only functions in a similar sense to a sign, but it is also performed in a similar sense to that ways that Lefebvre describes the rules that are enforced in the production of space. Think of the museum and how it is to be in a museum. I was once asked to stop running in the Centre Pompidou, it is not the way to be in the space of that place.

A target for the post-structural conception of space and place can be seen in the writings of Homi K Bhabha, who attempts to catalogue the transience of contemporary spaces and the power that contributes to the construction and representations of place:

From Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture:
If Renée Green's questions open up an interrogatory, interstitial space between the act of representation - who? what? where? - and the presence of community itself, then consider her own creative intervention within this in- between moment. Green's 'architectural' site-specific work, Sites of Genealogy (Out of Site, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Long Island City, New York), displays and displaces the binary logic through which identities of difference are often constructed - Black/White, Self/Other. Green makes a metaphor of the museum building itself, rather than simply using the gallery space:

I used architecture literally as a reference, using the attic, the boiler room, and the stairwell to make associations between certain binary divisions such as
higher and lower and heaven and hell. The stairwell became a liminal space [(from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold"], a pathway between the upper and lower areas, each of which was annotated with plaques referring to blackness and whiteness.'

The stairwell as liminal space, in-between the designations of identity, becomes the process of symbolic interaction, the connective tissue that constructs the difference between upper and lower, black and white. The hither and thither of the stairwell, the temporal movement and passage that it allows, prevents identities at either end of it from settling into primordial polarities. This interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy:

I always went back and forth between racial designations and
designations from physics or other symbolic designations. All these things blur
in some way ... To develop a genealogy of the way colours and non-colours
function is interesting to me.'

'Beyond' signifies spatial distance, marks progress, promises the future; but our intimations of exceeding the barrier or boundary - the very act of going beyond - are unknowable, unrepresentable, without a return to the 'present' which, in the process of repetition, becomes disjunct and displaced. The imaginary of spatial distance - to live somehow beyond the border of our times - throws into relief the temporal, social differences that interrupt our collusive sense of cultural contemporaneity. The present can no longer be simply envisaged as a break or a bonding with the past and the future, no longer a synchronic presence: our proximate self-presence, our public image, comes to be revealed for its discontinuities, its inequalities, its minorities. Unlike the dead hand of history that tells the beads of sequential time like a rosary, seeking to establish serial, causal connections, we are now confronted with what Walter Benjamin describes as the blasting of a monadic moment [being with and only with oneself] from the homogenous course of history, 'establishing a conception of the present as the "time of the now"'.

In The Location of Culture, Bhabha advocates a fundamental realignment of the methodology of cultural analysis in the West away from metaphysics and toward the "performative" and "enunciatory present"[4] Such a shift, he claims, provides a basis for the West to maintain less violent relationships with other cultures. In Bhabha's view, the source of the Western compulsion to colonize is due in large part to traditional Western representations of foreign cultures.

Bhabha's argument attacks the Western production and implementation of certain binary oppositions. The oppositions targeted by Bhabha include center/margin, civilized/savage, and enlightened/ignorant. Bhabha proceeds by destabilizing the binaries insofar as the first term of the binary is allowed to unthinkingly dominate the second.

Once the binaries are destabilized, Bhabha argues that cultures can be understood to interact, transgress, and transform each other in a much more complex manner than the traditional binary oppositions can allow. According to Bhabha, hybridity and "linguistic multivocality" have the potential to intervene and dislocate the process of colonization through the reinterpretation of political discourse.

From the three examples of how space and place are produced, understood and reacted to it should not be too difficult to step over into the idea that architecture is the arrangement, control, organization, planning, integration, and changing of the representations of space and place.

As a process, architecture is the activity of designing and constructing buildings and other physical structures by a person or a machine, primarily to provide socially purposeful shelter. A wider definition often includes the design of the total built environment, from the macro level of how a building integrates with its surrounding man made landscape (see town planning, urban design, and landscape architecture) to the micro level of architectural or construction details and, sometimes, furniture. Wider still, architecture is the activity of designing any kind of system.Wikipedia

The mechanics of space and place can be seen to be at the center of architecture as a process. Think of buildings and what they mean to you:

From the concept of Architecture to the concept of the architexture. The term has been used in relation to the writings of cyberpunk author William Gibson to explain "the effect of place, space and architecture on "posthuman" form and ontology" (Farnell 1998)
Architexture aligns the important distinction between the text as a fixed and interpreted medium and the performative realities of mediated space in the post-industrial societies of the world today. It is possible to live in a text today, in fact it is compulsory in many situations as the French theorist Jean Baudrillard has argued for in his works on simulacra and simulation:

Simulacra and Simulation is most known for its discussion of images, signs, and how they relate to the present day. Baudrillard claims that modern society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that the human experience is of a simulation of reality rather than reality itself. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are signs of culture and media that create the perceived reality; Baudrillard believed that society has become so reliant on simulacra that it has lost contact with the real world on which the simulacra are based.


Farnell, Ross. Posthuman Topologies: William Gibson’s "Architexture" in Virtual Light and Idoru (1998)

Lefebvre Henri, The Production of Space (Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith) (1991)

Casey, Edward S. Getting Back into Place: Towards a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (1993)