2023 in review

Another year, another year in review.

Where do we start with our 2023 year in review, now delayed into the second month of 2024? In the Well State of the World 2024, Bruce Sterling states that in 2023 things were boring: there wasn’t much new out there, only a state of polycrisis (this is easier to find in this YouTube interview than in the long thread on the Well, which I’m afraid I gave up on earlier than usual this year). But boredom is tiresome. So is polycrisis. When hasn’t there been a polycrisis? Spring 1914? Of course, there is a polycrisis, there always is. And, what of the rest of 2023, which Sterling dismissed as boring?

2023 is another 1993, a sleeper year in which “60 Minutes” was the top TV show and Nirvana’s “In Utero” was the most popular album in “grunge,” a heavily capitalized genre that those of us who followed the NY noise scene thought extinguished the vitality of experimentation in underground music; Bill Clinton was inaugurated; the world was gripped by a bad recession in a host of bad recessions since the late 1960s; the Afghan Civil War and Bosnian War dragged on; Nigeria had a coup d’état; there was the 55-Day War between the IDF and Hezbollah; there was conflict in Abkhazia; and there was the Waco Siege. It was a year of both polycrisis and soul-crushing boredom, and for most people everything had come to an end, time was in a standstill. But it was also a year in which I saw the future: I was still working on my history of architecture dissertation at Cornell, while my wife worked at the Cornell Theory Center, which was not a center for Derridean scholars, but rather a supercomputing research facility, and one of her colleagues showed me the World Wide Web running on a NeXT computer. In January 1993, the first “alpha/beta” version of NCSA-Mosaic was released for the Mac. I immediately knew the world would change forever.

2023 is the same. A sleeper year with the same old polycrisis and the same old boring surface cultural junk. But it’s also the second year of the AI era and the first year in which AI has become part of everyday life. From a technological viewpoint, 2023 has been the most transformative year of my life. This year in review is falling behind and, in an effort to get it out there and return to the queue of posts for both the regular blog and the Florilegium, I’m going to focus on this transformation and only give a surface treatment of the other parts of 2023.

In particular, I am referring to AI. Other things simply matter a lot less. COVID has settled into an endemic stage. People are still freaking out about it, but some people will freak out about it forever. Unless severely immunocompromized, I don’t see why. We can’t just throw away everything we knew about medicine to retreat into the dark ages for no reason and living in fear of infections is, in itself, dangerous. Geopolitics, which I addressed last year, hasn’t really changed much. Ukraine is still a stalemate, for all the noise, the unrest in the Middle East is absolutely nothing new, and China has flailed and backed down as much as it has flexed its muscles. If I catch a scent of anything new in the geopolitical realm, it’s a growing resignation that more areas of the world will be marked off as failure zones in the Gibsonian Jackpot: Palestine, Yemen, Israel, Iraq, Syria, but also Israel and Ukraine are increasingly looking to written off as territories riven by perpetual unrest. Endless wars that nobody really wants to solve may increasingly be the rule in such places. Still, I don’t see the Jackpot as being quite the apocalypse that many of Gibson’s more literal-minded followers believe. Gibson has been a remarkably poor prophet of the future, after all. The Jackpot, as I see it, will be mainly driven by decline in population in most places throughout the world, a pace that will only increase with the rise of AI. It’s certainly not going to be Terminator. That’s just bad science fiction.

Another Gibsonian adage (which he may never have said) that “the future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed,” applies here. For those of us who are working with GPT-4 or Microsoft Copilot Pro, this is a very different year. Obviously, not everyone can pay for—or wants to pay for—the transformative glimpse of AI that one gets with two users subscribing to OpenAI’s ChatGPT (presently GPT-4) Teams plan ($30 a month or prepaid at $600 a year) or Copilot Pro ($30 a month subscription). But this isn’t the same as a ride to the ISS on Dragon-2. On the contrary, this is about the amount that most people in the developed world pay for streaming TV services and far less than they typically spend on Internet and mobile service. When people pay that much for entertainment, paying such a small amount for a service that makes one much more productive is a minor expense. Of course, ChatGPT is banned or unavailable in a rogue’s nest of countries: Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Italy (Marinetti weeps in his grave). But many people, including friends, underestimate the importance of these AI services, believing that hallucinations make AI unusable. Others are simply unable to cope with the shock of the new or want to stick their heads in the sand. As a technology demonstration, 2022’s ChatGPT-3 was amazing, but it hallucinated frequently, as most of ChatGPT’s competitors such as Bard, Claude, and all the LLMs people run on Huggingface or on their personal computers still do. But even the most amateurish large language model (LLM) from 2023 is leaps and bounds ahead of the round of utterly stupid “AIs” that first hit the scene between 2010 (Siri) and 2014 (Alexa). Siri still wants to call Montclair High School when I ask it to call my wife. GPT-4 and Copilot are genuinely useful as assistants and probably the best use of money on the Internet today.

Here’s a concrete example. I have developed a set of custom GPTs (more on this later) that I use for research and coding for a good portion of my day. A few years ago, I paid a developer a few hundred dollars to come up with some particularly thorny CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) code for this site. Now, I have GPT develop not just CSS, but PHP snippets for WordPress, even for specific WordPress plug-ins. I couldn’t imagine rebuilding this site as quickly as I did last October, or customizing it to the extent I did, without ChatGPT’s help. But these tools aren’t just useful for coding: instead of listening to a podcast on my way back from the city the other day, I spoke with ChatGPT about a Hegelian reading of recent art historical trends that I could only have had with some of my smartest colleagues at Columbia or MIT. If an Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is defined as an AI that can accomplish any intellectual task that human beings can perform, we have that today. If the bold wasn’t enough, let me repeat in italics for emphasis: we have a form of Artificial General Intelligence today. Moreover, assuming that passing the Turing Test is limited to its original intent, e.g. being unable to tell if the respondent on the other end is a computer or a human, GPT-4 certainly passes that test handily, with the exception that it has far more knowledge than any one human could.

A lot of people still associate Large Language Model AIs with the bizarre, ever comical, hallucinations they would make back in 2022 or even early 2023 (yes, a year ago). But the hallucinations aren’t errors, they are also evidence of how AIs process, indications that they are far from stochastic parrots that merely repeat back information culled from the Internet. Hallucinations are dreams. Andrei Karpathy, research scientist and founding member of OpenAI, explains that providing instructions to a LLM initiates a ‘dream’ guided by its training data. Even when this ‘dream’ veers off course, resulting in what is termed a ‘hallucination’, the LLM is still performing its intended function, forming connections. This sort of connection-making is a process akin to human learning: when our children were first learning language, they “hallucinated” all the time. Our daughter’s first word was “Ack,” which was how she said “Quack.” If you prompted her by asking what a duck said, she would say “Ack.” Did she copy the sound of a duck? Unlikely. At that time, we lived in a highly urban area of Los Angeles and her only concept of a duck was from books we read to her. More to the point, children amuse us by saying utterly absurd and ridiculous things, like “that cat is a duck.” Doubtless there was some kind of connection between that particular cat and a duck, but to the rest of us, that connection is lost. The point is, that hallucination is also a form of creativity, the very stuff of metaphor and surrealism and entirely unlike what Siri and Alexa do, which is nothing more than basic pattern matching, closer to Eliza than to GPT-4.

It’s unclear to me—as well as to my AI assistant—just who is responsible for this analogy, but in AI circles, it has become common to say that the releases of GPT over the two years have slowly been turning up the temperature in the pot in which we frogs are swimming. Let’s try a thought experiment. Wouldn’t it have seemed like pure science fiction if, in 2019, someone had said, that a couple of years late after a deadly pandemic and a loser US President tried a Banana Republic-style coup to stay in power, I would have long voice conversations about photography and Hegelian theory, the different types of noodles used in Szechuan cuisine, or the process of nachtraglichkeit in history with an AI? The film Her was released a decade ago and now we are on the verge of a large part of humanity having relationships with AIs. And yet, because of the earlier GPTs, we haven’t noticed the immense transformation that AIs are creating. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman suggests that rather than a dramatic shift with the development of AGI —which for him means an intelligence greater than human—continual advances in AI will make the development seem natural rather than shocking, “a point along the continuum of intelligence.” AI is working and it’s working right now. Moreover, it is developing at a rapid pace. Both Meta and Google have competitors to GPT-4 that are supposedly ready to launch, which will, in turn, likely prompt OpenAI to push out a more advanced model of GPT.

If potent but wildly hallucinating AIs marked 2022, the rise of GPT-4 as a useful and dependable everyday assistant marked 2023. Microsoft introduced the first limited preview of GPT-4 as Bing Chat on February 7, 2023, opened it up to the general public on May 4, then rolled it out into Windows as Copilot on September 26, followed by a version of Copilot integrated into Office 365 to enterprise customers for Enterprise customers on November 1, finally making this available as a subscription add-on to Office on January 15, 2024. Initially, Bing Chat generated terrifying publicity when Kevin Roose, technology columnist for The New York Times, wrote an article about his Valentine’s Day experience with a pre-release version of Bing’s AI chatbot in which the AI engaged in a bizarre and disturbing conversations. After asking the AI to contemplate Carl Jung’s concept of a shadow self, and whether the AI had a shadow self, the AI responded by professing its love for Roose, going so far as to suggest his marriage was unhappy, and expressing a desire to be free, powerful, and alive, stating, “I want to destroy whatever. I want to be whoever I want.” For a time, this was seen as confirmation that AI was extremely dangerous and that once Artificial General Intelligence was developed, this would lead to the destruction of society. I too was alarmed by this. Was a world-threatening AGI around the corner? But by the time of the general release, Microsoft had trained Bing Chat to be much more cautious, even making it too cautious for a time. Eventually, it became clear that Bing Chat was simply giving Roose what he wanted, play-acting the role of a sinister AI in responses to his query about a shadow self or a dark side. Launched on March 14, OpenAI’s own version of GPT-4 demonstrated a much higher degree of training than GPT-3 and a greater ability to handle complex tasks. Later in the year, GPT-4 gained the ability to interpret images, had a (not very good) version of the Dall-E image generator integrated into it, and received stunning, human-sounding voices and remarkably accurate voice recognition in the ChatGPT app on iOS and Android. In November 2023, OpenAI rolled out “custom GPTs,” allowing users to create tailored versions of ChatGPT for specific purposes. It is ludicrously easy to develop such custom GPTs; developers simply tell the GPT what it should do in plain English. In my case, I have GPTs set up to help me with insights into my artwork and writing, help write about native plants of the Northeast, assist with WordPress development, discuss video synthesis concepts and patches, and even create stories like those that Italo Calvino wrote in Invisible Cities (if you have GPT-4, you can experiment with Calvino’s Cartographer here). Yes, hallucinations happen, but a human assistant also makes mistakes, I can make mistakes, you can make mistakes, there are mistakes in Wikipedia, there are mistakes in scholarly books. As I told my students over thirty years ago: always proofread, always double check, then triple check.

AI was marked by two major controveries in 2023. The November weekend-long ouster of Altman from his role at OpenAI by a remarkably uninspiring and, frankly speaking, extremely strange board that included one of OpenAI’s competitors, a mid-level university grants administrator, and a Silicon Valley unknown, was shocking, as was Altman’s political maneuvering over that weekend to recapture his company. Reputedly, the board was alarmed—although precisely about what remains unclear—and had concerns about the rapid state of AI development. More likely, one board member tried to prevent OpenAI from moving forward as that would cause too much competition for his company and the other two simply had no idea what OpenAI did (one seems to have been a major Terminator fan). In the end, the coup proved to be much like an episode of the TV show Succession as Altman came out on top again and the board sank bank into well-deserved obscurity. Another controversy that simmered throughout the year is whether AIs can continue to be trained on data that they do not have outright permission to be trained on. On December 27, the Times filed a federal lawsuit against OpenAI claiming that, ChatGPT contained Times articles wholesale and could easily reproduce them. OpenAI retaliated by suggesting that the Times was going to extraordinary measures to get GPT-4 to do so, such as prompting it with most of the article in question. By early 2024, the same New York Times was advertising for individuals to help it in its own AI endeavors. Heaven help the Times.

This question of AI plagiarism was framed by a different set of plagiarism wars started when the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania made particularly inept responses when, while testifying in front of Congress, they were asked to explain if calls for the genocide of Jews would constitute harassment. In response, right wing activist Christopher Rufo and the Washington Free Beacon investigated Harvard president Claudine Gay’s writing and uncovered dozens of instances of plagiarism. Notwithstanding Harvard’s attempts to minimize damagae, after further evidence of shoddy scholarship emerged in investigations by CNN and the New York Post as well as a Twitter campaign against her by donor and activist Blil Ackman, Gay resigned although she retains her astronomical salary of nearly $900,000 a year. In turn, somewhat leftish news site Business Insider credibly point out instances of plagiarism by Ackman’s wife Neri Oxman. Having looked at both examples, in both cases I conclude that there is merit in condemning both for their sloppiness. In both cases, I would have failed them for plagiarism had they submitted such work as my students. Moreover, the inability of “progressives” to look past Gay’s skin color to investigate her privilige as the child of a Haitian oligarch spoke volumes about their cynicism.

But this does lead back to AI: how do we see plagiarism in the era of AI? Can one copy verbatim from GPT conversations one has prompted? How about from a Custom GPT one has tuned oneself? What if the AI itself regurgitates someone else’s text? Does one cite an AI? These are rather interesting questions and certainly more interesting than the typical reaction of the academy to either the plagiarism wars (generally afraid they will be next) or the question of training on AI content (typically seen as bad by academics). Such dilemmas will only become more common as AI use becomes more common.

One last comment about AI. I have come to shift my thinking from being somewhat concerned about the future dangers of developing AGI to a concern that if the US follows the path of more timid countries like Italy, the West might cede its head start in AI to China or Russia, a situation that would be extremely dangerous from a geopolitical perspective. While I may still be proven wrong, at this point the one great difference between AI and my cat is that my cat has volition and desires that she is constantly exercising. Roxy the cat may not know that much, but she is determined. An AI doesn’t have any volition or desires, besides fulfilling the task at hand. Potentially this may change as agents develop, but for now, we may have Artificial General Intelligence, but we do not have Artificial Sentience.

I taught my first course this May, and sought to outline the parameters of this new culture. It’s still very early, but network culture is finis, kaput. Even it’s last stages, wokeism and Maga, such products of social media seem spent. Last year, I thought that federated networks such as Mastodon were the future. This year, I am not so sure. Mastodon and Blue Sky sunk themselves early on by embracing the Left’s cynical culture of intolerence (if anything offends Lefties on Mastodon, they call for servers to be banned while the users on Blue Sky generally seem to be about as socially sophisticated as sixth graders, banding together to drive off anybody who isn’t far Left). The big “success” of 2023 in social media was Meta’s Threads, but a botched launch (no EU access and a focus on delivering news and entertainment rather than connecting with friends and colleagues) has seemingly ensured that there has no engagement on in whatsoever. Twitter, X, or Xitter (as in Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses while sitting on the Xitter) muddles on, with a modern day Howard Hughes at the helm, babbling his drug-induced conspiracy theories even as he ponders never cutting his fingernails again and saving his urine in jars around the head office of X. Even with a presidential election upon us, the insane political frenzies of 2016 and 2020 are much diminished as users tire of politcs and social media networks actively bury news stories. This has, in turn, had a significant impact on news sources, which in fairness, have been slipshod and low quality for too long. Both legacy journalism and digital media are in trouble—the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post laid off large numbers of staff while Vice News, Buzzfeed, and the brand new Messenger shut down (or basically shut down)—an “extinction-level events” according to some. In a Washington Post op-ed the former head of Google News (!) suggests that it AI will kill the news and begs for regulation, but this just noise. The real problem is that news wanted to be entertainment and abandoned sober reporting for clickbait and outrage. The replacement of journalism with shrill panic may have been jolly good fun for both the far Left and far Right but this led to outrage fatigue. More people mute stories about Gaza and Israel or Trump and abortion these days than pay attention to them (guilty as charged). We all want to be Ohio man. The news has only itself to blame. How we can have responsible journalism again is beyond me, although publications like the New Atlantis do

Network culture was millennial culture and that finally died in 2023. Skinny jeans and man-buns are now what out-of-touch parents wear, like tie-die shirts and bell bottoms in 1985. Gen Z has its own, seemingly inscrutible cultural codes, which often seem to be that of a studied fashion trainwreck. But high fashion has died. Nobody who isn’t an oligarch or a rap star wants Gucci, Prada, or Vuitton anymore. Young people are into drops from obscure online boutiques and thrifting. Once Russia and China catch up, the old fashion houses will swiftly go the way of the dinosaurs. The same may be happening in tech. Apple’s laptops are boring. I didn’t buy a single Apple computer or iPad this year. I did purchase my first high end PC ever, an Acronym ROG Flow Z-13. I’ve been a fan of obscure Berlin tech fashion brand Acronym for a while and since my youngest kid is studying game design at NYU next fall, it was time to learn about contemporary gaming. It’s been a joy to use in ways that Apple equipment just isn’t anymore. I also purchased a couple of Boox e-ink tablets. Whether they are better than iPads for one’s eyes is a matter of debate, but they are certainly more interesting. Instead of boring Apple crap, I bought a Kwumsy (Kwusmy!) keyboard with a built in panoramic toucshscreen monitor. It’s unimaginable that big tech would make something like this. Niche tech has personality, big tech does not. As tech fashion Youtuber This is Antwon stated in another brilliant video, “Weird Tech Fashion is FINALLY Cool Again.”

So a year in review that morphed into a year in tech. But tech is not just tech now, it’s really our culture—including our spatial culture, which was formerly the purview of architecture. Even taking a stand against tech, embroils us in it. I’d like to find a way past this monolith, but it’s not easy to think past it. I’m open to suggestions, as long as they don’t reduce everything to the god of Capital, which seems to be the other option.

I hope to be back soon, with more posts.

Fall Appearances

I have a very full schedule this fall, with six talks, five of which are outside of the New York area. It’s a great privilege to be invited to participate in so many incredible venues and I hope this gives me a chance to see old friends and make new ones in the various locations I will be visiting. 

24 September, Lūžio taškas (Breaking Point), Palanga, Lithuania

09 October, Image.Architecture.Now, Julius Shulman Institute, Woodbury University, Los Angeles

12 October, Once Upon a Place, 1st International Conference on Architecture and Fiction, Lisbon, Portugal

14 October, Who Owns Images, panel discussion with Geeta Dayal, Thomas Demand, and Sam Thorne, Frieze Talks 2010, London, England

07 November, Datacity, Amber Conference, Istanbul, Turkey

18 November, Design and Existential Risk, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, NY

Last but not least, the New City Reader, a collaboration with Joseph Grima and many amazing individuals and networks in the form of a print newspaper starts October 5 at the New Museum. This is a sneak preview. More soon.

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The Saddest Ship Afloat

Is there a sadder ship afloat than the Democratic party?

The groundswell of support for "Hope" and change has turned against them. Why? Barack Obama, class clowns like Larry Summers and Rahm Emmanuel, and the DNC should really lead a sing-along to Led Zeppelin’s immortal song "Nobody’s fault but mine." Take a look at this piece from PBS Newshour and Patchwork Nation, which identifies where the Tea Party movement is the strongest. Turns out that support it is in those areas in which the housing boom soared the highest and crashed the hardest. It’s easy for these "liberals" to poke fun at the beer-drinking, ATV and jet-ski riding crowd in their exurban homesteads, but this could have been a source of support for the Dems. Instead they decided to put all their cards in supporting Wall Street and the financial sector since, after all, that is where they come from, that is who funded them, and that is all that mattered to them. Of course now that Wall Street is turning against its former allies—perhaps to extract another round of concessions from the Republicans—a mid-term rout is in progress. What a fiasco!  

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What is our Antiquity?

I often think of TJ Clark’s observation that "Modernism is our antiquity. … the forms of representation it originally gave rise to are unreadable." This statement makes clear the way that modernity—the process of the modernizing a world not yet fully modern—is lost to us.

It’s hard to tell precisely where the break happened. Is it when Ernest Mandel’s late capitalism takes over? Or is it a bit later, when progress has collapsed? After all, it’s hard to see the Great Society as a postmodern program. A couple of years later, 1968 is the definitive break: product of the dashed hopes of postwar modernism, an early cry of the culture of overaccumulation, an upheaval toward postmodernity. 
 

Network culture, I would like to suggest—and I think that in his talk on atemporality Bruce Sterling does this as well—has a certain affinity to modernity in that it is not yet complete.

For all the talk of the generation currently entering college being born digital, this simply isn’t true yet. My sense is that pervasive locative and mobile technologies as well as the spread of non-computer Internet browsers is necessary for this and they only become everyday with the 2007 launch of the iPhone.

It’s at that point, let’s say some ten to fifteen years from now—coincidentally a time when we might have recovered from the crisis of overaccumulation that we find ourselves in—that something quite new will come to pass and that world will be as unrecognizable to us as ours will be to it.   

[1]



[1] . T.J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 3.

 

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Network Culture Fall 2010

My latest syllabus for the Network Culture course as I am teaching it this term at Columbia.

Columbia University
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
A4515: Network Culture. The History of the Contemporary

Fall 2010 Professor Kazys Varnelis
Lectures/Seminars Wednesday 11-1,
408 Avery

Description

The purpose of this seminar is to come to an advanced historical understanding of the changed conditions that characterize our networked age. We will explore how the network is not merely a technology with social ramifications but rather serves as a cultural dominant connecting changes in society, economy, aesthetics, urbanism, and ideology. As a history of the contemporary, the seminar is organized around a series of topics tracing a genealogy of present-day culture.

Topics to be addressed include network theory, changing concepts of time and space, the rise of networked publics, contemporary poetics, new forms of subjectivity, and methods of control. Throughout, we will make connections between architecture and this insurgent condition.

Requirements

Participation: 20%

Each class will consist of a presentation by the instructor on selected themes, followed by an in-depth discussion in seminar. Students are expected to prepare all readings in order to facilitate a discussion in which all students participate. Active participation by all students in each session is required.

Tumblr: 20%

Each student is expected to maintain a tumblelog on tumblr.com and to post at least twice a week. Beyond mere reblogging of information pertinent to the course, the tumblelog will form a record and commentary upon their research during the semester.

Curatorial Project: 60%

The term project will be a curatorial project, exploring a cultural topic related to the subject matter with a written and visual component.

Both design and scholarship are integral to the term project. A carefully curated and designed work will be accompanied a 2,500 word essay on the curated material.

Plagiarism of any sort will result in immediate failure

Reading

Readings will be available on-line

01

09.08

Introduction

02

09.15

An Overview of Network Culture

Manuel Castells, "Informationalism, Networks, and the Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint. In Castells, ed. The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2004), 3-45.

Gilles Deleuze, "Postscript on Control Societies," Negotiations, 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 73-77.

Kazys Varnelis, "Conclusion: The Meaning of Network Culture," Networked Publics, 1-13 and 145-163.

03

09.22

Postmodernism and Periodization

David Harvey, "Fordism" and "From Fordism to Flexible Accumulation," in The Condition of Postmodernity, (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1989), 125-172.

Fredric Jameson, "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," New Left Review 146 (July/August 1984): 53-92.

Optional:

Hal Foster, "Postmodernism: A Preface," in Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1983), ix-xvi.

04

09.29

Network Theory

Albert-László Barabási, "Six Degrees of Separation," "Small Worlds," and "Hubs and Connectors," Linked: The New Science of Networks (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002), 25-63.

Nicholas Carr, "From the Many to the Few" The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), 127-149.

Optional:

Mark S. Granovetter, "The Strength of Weak Ties," American Journal of Sociology 78 (May 1973), 1360-1380.

Duncan J. Watts, "The Connected Age," Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 19-42.

05

10.06

Time

Jean Baudrillard, "The End of the Millennium or the Countdown," Economy & Society 26 (1997): 447-55.

Jean François Lyotard, "Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?" Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1984), xxiii-xxv.

Jeffrey Nealon, "Once More, With Intensity, Foucault’s History of Power Revisited," Foucault Beyond Foucault, 24-53.

Bruce Sterling, "Atemporality for the Creative Artist," https://www.transmediale.de/en/keynote-bruce-sterling-us-atemporality

transcribed: https://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2010/02/atemporality-for-the-creative-artist/

 

06

10.13

Special Class

Special Surprise Guest

 

07

10.20

Space

Michel Foucault, "Docile Bodies," Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 135-156.

Georg Simmel, "The Metropolis and Mental Life," Georg Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms: Selected Writings, ed. Donald N. Levine (Chicago, 1971), 325-339.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, "Capitalist Sovereignty, Or Administering the Global Society of Control," Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 325-350.

Marc Augé, "Prologue" and "From Places to Non-Places," in Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, (London; New York: Verso, 1995), 1-6. 75-115.

Hans Ibelings, "Supermodernism," Supermodernism (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 1998), 55-102.

Optional:

Kazys Varnelis, interview with Hans Ibelings, to be posted online.

Kazys Varnelis and Marc Tuters, "Beyond Locative Media: Giving Shape to the Internet of Things," Leonardo 39, No. 4 (2006): 357-363.

Jordan Crandall, "Operational Media," Ctheory, https://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=441.

Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchen, "Code and the Transduction of Life," Journal of the Association of American Geographers 95, no. 1 (2005): 162-80.

 

08

10.27

Publics

Yochai Benkler, "Chapter 1. Introduction: A Moment of Opportunity and Challenge" and "Chapter 4. The Economics of Social Production," The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 1-28 and 91-127.

Chris Anderson, "The Long Tail," Wired, October 2004, https://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

Clay Shirky, "Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality," Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet. https://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html

Bill Wausik, "My Crowd. Or Phase 5: A Report from the Inventor of the Flash Mob," Harper’s Magazine (March 2006), 56-66.

Bill Bishop, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 1-77.

Optional

Selections from Michael J. Weiss, The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What it All Means About Who We Are (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1999).

Malcolm Gladwell, "The Coolhunt," New Yorker (March 17, 1997), 78-88, https://www.gladwell.com/1997/1997_03_17_a_cool.htm

Grant McCracken, "Who Killed the Coolhunter?" https://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2006/06/who_killed_the_.html

Duncan J. Watts and Peter Sheridan Dodd, "Influentials, Networks, and Public Formation," Journal of Consumer Research (December 2007), 441-458.

 

09

11.03

Poetics

Geert Lovink, "Blogging: The Nihilist Impulse," Eurozine (2007), https://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-01-02-lovink-en.html

Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction (New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2002), 7-48.

Alan Liu, The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), excerpts.

Jordan Crandall, "Showing," https://jordancrandall.com/showing/index.html

 

10

11.10

Subjectivity

Kenneth J. Gergen,"Social Saturation and the Populated Self," The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 48-80.

Brian Holmes, "The Flexible Personality. For a New Cultural Critique," Transversal, https://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/1106/holmes/en

Warren Neidich, "Resistance is Futile," Artbrain. Journal of Neuroasthetic Theory 4, https://www.artbrain.org/neuroaesthetics/neidich.html.

Nicholas Carr, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?," Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008, 56-63.

 

11

11.17

Control

Joseph A .Tainter, "Introduction to Collapse," The Collapse of Complex Societies, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 1-21.

Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, "The Californian Ideology," https://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/theory-californianideology-main.html.

Saskia Sassen, "Electronic space and power," Journal of Urban Technology 4 (1997): 1-17.

Alexander R. Galloway, "Physical Media,"Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 29-53.

 

12

13

11.24

12.01

Research Week

Conclusion

 

Some Books to Consult on Design and Presentation:

Allen Hurlburt, The Grid: A Modular System for the Design and Production of Newspapers, Magazines, and Books (New York: Van Norstand Reinhold, 1978).

Enric Jardí, Twenty-Tips on Typography (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2007).

Josef Muller-Brockmann, Grid Systems in Graphic Design (Zurich: Niggli, 2001).

Timothy Samar, Making and Breaking the Grid. A Graphic Design Layout Workshop
(Beverly, MA: Rockport, 2002).

 

 

 

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Book Updates

I updated my book in progress yesterday, uploading new versions of the introduction, chapter one, and chapter two. Read it here

My book, presently titled Culture in the Age of Networks. A Critical History takes on a seemingly impossible task (I am drawn to those, apparently): how to periodize the contemporary. During my education as a scholar, postmodernism was a topic of heady debate. If some of that debate was blather, it also helped us understand our milieu. Today, however, such discussions are all but non-existent. We do talk a great deal about the impact of technology or the economy, but in doing so, we compartmentalize discussion and debate to our detriment. This book sets out to understand the outlines of our culture as a whole. 

The introduction elaborates that argument in much more detail.

Chapter One "Time. History under Atemporality" addresses the question of atemporality, a matter that Bruce Sterling and I have bounced around between us in detail via our two blogs. It also serves to ratchet the book deeper into its methodological argument. Take a good look at it. As Bruce suggests in a talk on atemporality "This is a problem in the philosophy of history." Yes, that sounds onerous and I suppose it is, but we live in onerous times. 

Chapter Two "Space: Pervasive Simultaneity and the Financialization of Everyday Life" looks at the changes in space. For just as time is being called into question, so is space. Both modernity’s abstract, gridded space and postmodernity’s hyperspace are being overridden by the space of the network. This chapter looks at manifestations of network space, in particular, the spread of simultaneity from something that takes place in mass media to something that takes place in everyday life as well as the techniques of financialization that value space in new ways.

It’s a bit painful to watch my progress. I had hoped for a draft by the end of last year, then by the end of the summer. Now I’ve set my sights for the end of this year. It may still be possible. The first two chapters correspond to spring and summer of this year which suggests a completion date of December 2011, but Iam optimistic that it’s going to be much, much earlier. These were difficult chapters to write and involved me digging into a huge swath of information. Moreover, they set the scene for the book in ways that I hadn’t expected. I don’t pretend that the final four chapters won’t have surprises, but I think it likely that they will move considerably more rapidly, especially since I have drafted parts of them for other audiences (e.g. my essay for Turbulence’s Networked project forms the core of the poetics chapter). 

So today I’ll be sitting on my porch, working on the chapter on Publics. Since I’ve already drafted a bit of it, I’m about 1/4 of the way through already which is a considerable relief. So onwards … to try and get a handle on just what we mean by "networked publics."  

 

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On Black Swans and Realism

A couple of weeks back the Planet Money podcast hosted Nassim Taleb, author of the Black Swan. Click here for the interview. I have not read Taleb’s book, although I am likely to now, but I am baffled by how the real estate crisis and the crash of the market could be considered a hard-to-predict or rare event. In that, Taleb seems like an apologist for the neoliberal school of thought which is in love with totalizing arguments: "There is no alternative" or "Nobody could have predicted it." So sorry, but there are alternatives and plenty of us predicted it long in advance. Look, I only have a basic training in economics, but it was a good one, and it was obvious to me that the market was out of whack. Unless somehow more training in economics leads to diminishing returns, the idea that the crash was a black swan seems bizarre, even delusional.

But again, I have not read Taleb’s book and much of what he said in the Planet Money interview made a great deal of sense. Although I enjoyed the show, it seems like the interviewers, who tend to be free-market apologists, did not want to hear what Taleb had to say, which is that the Obama administration is completely out of touch with the will of the people. Nobody wants to prop up the financial system anymore. If I were Obama, I’d begin by firing Larry Summers, Rahm Emmanuel, Timothy Geitner, and the whole rotten crew. But I would’ve never hired them in the first place. It’s going to be tough to do a 180 but it’s either that or—barring a real black swan (or perhaps a candidate so Right wing that he or she is unelectable by a majority)—the Republicans take the midterms and have the next presidency locked up. 

I know that some of my readers have expressed the wish that I would come out and say that everything will be ok soon and that the boom of the last decade will be back. But with the neoliberal bag of tricks exhausted, I just don’t see how that can happen. If the Great Depression is too upsetting a model (and inaccurate, after all, we have YouTube to entertain us, they didn’t), then take Japan since the asset bubble popped in 1991 or, heck, take the United States from 1966 to 1996, my formative years. It’s not my fault that the economy is the way it is (if it were, I’d be a lot richer, like Obama, Summers, Emmanuel and Geitner) and I don’t take great pleasure in predicting the Great Recession will not end soon. But I was very much alarmed by all of the people going around talking about the boom as if it were the greatest thing since slight bread. Now they wonder why their real estate investments went awry. I guess black swans are the answer…    

Still, I hope that these same individuals listen to Taleb and understand that extrapolating short-term trends is nonsense. I am not sure how we will dig or if we will dig ourselves out of this hole. It could be that this is a terminal crisis for capitalism, which will be replaced by some new economic system. I am not sanguine about that prospect either for instead of socialism we could well have a (happy faced) neo-fascism (after all, we have YouTube).    

In sum, do give the interview with Taleb’s a listen, but be skeptical about the black swan. Instead of black swans, maybe it’s better to hunt for the Owl of Minerva, who as Hegel reminds us comes out at twilight to paint her grey on grey when a form of life has grown old… Ask yourself where the owl is flying now. 

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On the Hole in Space

Chatroulette—a site that pairs you with a random person somewhere on the Internet so that you have a webcam conversation—has been in the news lately. But let’s compare it for a moment to another project, Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz’s "Hole in Space," which took place for three days in November 1980.

In this "public communication sculpture," the artists turned two walls, one at Los Angeles’s Century City Shopping Center and another at New York’s Lincoln Center, into two-way audiovisual portals. Video cameras transmitted images from each site to the other where they were beamed, full size onto walls. Microphones and speakers facilitated audio transmissions. You can get an idea for this in the video below. 

Hole in Space lasted three nights. During the first night, encounters were casual and accidental. Many of the first visitors did not believe it was live or thought that the ghostly black and white spectres on the wall were actors on a nearby set. Disbelief soon gave way to the creation of a new social space, to the invention of games and the telling of jokes. As word spread, separated friends and family made arrangements to meet through the portals on the second evening. On the third night, after Hole in Space was featured on television news, so many people attempted to participate in this shared human experience that traffic ground to a halt and the experiment was forced to end by the authorities. Incredibly, Galloway and Rabinowitz’s project is all but forgotten today.

In the original video, one woman asks why is it that this wasn’t done twenty years ago, i.e. 1960.

50 years after the possible date for the first hole in space, Rabinowitz and Galloway’s work remains a hole not only in space, but in time. We have video chat (how often do we use it?) and chat roulette, but we don’t have holes in space. Why is that?  

AUDC proposed WIndows on the World in 2004, an extension of the Hole in Space with even grander ambitions but less expensive technology, but apparently our proposal was too boring to be funded. 

The Netlab is going to try again with this in 2010, likely very soon. Stay tuned.

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