Monday, October 1, 2012

Why are we so interested in machines?

(I stole this labyrinth from Belisa Bartra's Tumblr. I have no idea if it's hers and I have no relation to her whatsoever. I hope she won't mind)

I've been wondering about this for a while now: Why, o, why are we so interested in machines? what's the deal --my deal-- with the computer and the Web? “Why are we so interested in machines despite their core stupidity, their 0s and 1s, their propensity to crash, their maddening literalness and oblivious torpor?” I could not have phrased it any better, and hence, I'm copying and pasting from Janet Murray’s introduction to The New Media Reader. She wonders why we keep persevering with a medium that is so deeply flawed and yet, so intrinsically appealing that most of us, today, choose to communicate with one another by "making complex artifacts out of electrical impulse." Why do we do what we do, and why do we do it online? doo bee doo.

Murray offers a lovely humanistic perspective on the issue: because we are pattern makers, she says, because we think beyond our tools. Because the digital medium is as much a pattern of thinking as a pattern of making. Because we are drawn to this medium because we need to understand the world. A world that, some how, it seems, we are creating and coding with new patterns. We, humans, are behind --and are in charge of-- it all. The machine, the book, the painting, the symphony, and the photograph, all of them, are made in our own image and reflect it back again. We are the world! and we draw pretty patterns on it and then feel compelled to try to understand and use these machines that we have created to make these patterns in the first place. But why, o, why, this obsession with the digital now? (and by now, I mean, of course, for the past 50 years). Janet says that's because we are finally aware of the failure of linear media (that boring, uncool, linear media) to capture the structures of our thought. That thought that seems to be going crazy creating web patterns for us to untangle trying to understand what's going on in the web... doo be doo, hum dee dum.

Now then, I also read the next three following essays on the same reader:  Manovich's intro --o, how much we love Manovich and his The Language of New Media, btw--, "El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan" del maestro Borges, and an oldie but goodie: Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" about that sexy memex machine. Manovich has a similar interpretation on the issue of making sense of our experience --I guess we are all obsessed with the same things, but then again, that does not make it any less genuine, does it? we could just copy and paste each other all day long and still be saying something genuine and unique, I feel, but that's a thought trendy enough to have its own post, so I'll save it for later--. Borges and Bush --BB for short-- are both toying with the idea of creating massive branching structures as ways to better organize data and represent human experience.
Borges, however, wrote about his forking garden of multiple --but limited-- paths before the cool high-tech people came up with the idea of hypertext. Before Bush's memex even. Borges was delineating his own narrative machine before we had the machines to make it happen. This seems to be the common belief about Borges' story and its relation to hypertext, and it's similar to Manovich's proposal in "Avant-Garde as Software" --read it, people, read it (most of it included in The Language of...)-- where he says that many avant-garde experiments and comprehension models on how to approach the world were absorbed by software and became part of new media technologies. Borges' assumptions were refashioned by the new machines and present a new organizational model for us to deal with these patterns, this data, that we keep creating. La dee dah.

Kenneth Goldsmith said somewhere --I do believe it was in Uncreative Writing-- that we are now facing an unprecedented situation: never before had we had so much information. Goldsmith, as a poet, talks about text, about the unlimited text patterns that conglomerate the Web. How to make his way through this thicket --that's the pretty word he uses-- of information, how to manage it, parse it, organize it and distribute it, is his main poetic concern. He literally says that this approach is "what distinguishes my writing from yours" --you being, well, you, and he being, well, him, although you are not not so much you anymore if you are reading this and are starting to understand that what we are all doing is trying to think more like him. We are all trying to better organize the data that creates our world, and, on the same token, we create non-stop. We are data machines. But if we are the machines, who are the humans?

The poets. Definitely.
Doo bee doo.

Alex Saum
(The author, Dr. Saum-Pascual, originally posted this somewhere else, but because it's hers, she can do whatever she wants with it and re-post it here. La dee dah)