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robertogreco : technosphere   3

The Anthropoid Condition - The Los Angeles Review of Books
[via: "Great interview w/ John D. Peters at @LAReviewofBooks: . A lot of people think they’re smart; Peters is really smart."

"Peters’s new book, “The Marvelous Clouds,” is easiest the smartest thing I’ve read in a ages, btw. " ]

"BRÍAN HANRAHAN: What distinguishes your understanding of 'media' in The Marvelous Clouds from other, maybe better-known uses of the term?

JOHN DURHAM PETERS: 'Media' is one of those terms whose meaning is as imprecise as a plate of spaghetti. And like 'spaghetti,' few can tell if it is a plural or singular noun. My academic preference is to say “media are” with a plural verb in order to underline the diversity of media forms and formats, but most people are happy to talk about media as a mass noun and use the term to refer to everything from journalists and publicity to furnace filters and hard drives. In the field of media studies, media typically are more clearly defined as a cluster of institutions, audiences, and programs (e.g., Disney, BBC, or Google), but there is a minority tradition I favor that sees media more broadly as staples, environments, and data processors of all kinds — as elements in the middle. Some of my critics say this view stretches the concept beyond its breaking point, but I believe ubiquitous computing has already stretched media more than our concepts have: thanks to digital transformations, media are so environmentally pervasive that we need an encompassing definition to match. Theory is usually playing catch-up.

BRÍAN HANRAHAN: The book delves into innumerable subjects, skipping through dozens of disciplines: anthropology, zoology, theology, astronomy, the history of technology, cultural history of many kinds, philosophy and literature and more. But if there is one term that you seem to identify with, it is 'media theory.' On the face of it, that might seem a modest label for such a broad vision. So what is “media theory,” as you understand it, and what can be learned from it?

JOHN DURHAM PETERS: Glad that you think it is a matter of skipping rather than skidding! The book presupposes a view of knowledge and research that it doesn’t spell out at any length. What would the university look like if we took seriously the mortality of the human knower and the responsibility to speak to the species rather than only to one’s peers? I believe it would be a less turfy, more humble, and more interdisciplinary place, one less focused on the newest thing and more open to long stretches of time.[i] Labeling fields of study often amounts to little more than a branding exercise, so my unpretentious choice of “media theory” is, among other things, an indirect comment on academic tribalism. Media theory has almost no barriers to entry — you’d be amazed at how readily some people opine on media without any sense of the field’s traditions or concepts — and almost anyone can call themselves a media theorist; as beings who live in the middle, in medias res, I think that every human being is potentially such a creature. Media theory, at its best, is a means of seeking greater awareness of the basic conditions in which we live.

BRÍAN HANRAHAN: Clouds, unlike fire, sky, and sea, don’t get chapters to themselves in the book, but they are in the title, and they are a recurring motif. What is so interesting about clouds for a media theorist and historian?

JOHN DURHAM PETERS: Clouds are interesting because they bring together so many great questions. It’s hard to boil down something I’ve thought so much about, but here goes.[ii]

First, clouds raise very fundamental questions of where significance lies. Clouds are often thought to be blank and meaningless, the playthings of whimsy. Hardly. Few things are so packed with meaning. Once you start looking at clouds, you see them everywhere in art, literature, religion, and popular culture, and of course in the sky. The question of what clouds mean is a deep one; reading clouds is the paradigm case of how to interpret nature and how not to. Clouds tell us about the weather and the future, and reading the sky is a basic human task; in Iowa, where I live, like many places, clouds are among the most spectacular forms of natural beauty. Of course, there is a long tradition of scorn starting from at least Aristophanes aimed at anyone who finds meaning in clouds, but it is just as foolish to say clouds have no meaning (ask a sailor, pilot, or farmer if clouds mean nothing). The meaning that remains once you subtract human intention turns out to be rich, and I argue that media theory should take this abundant zone of meaning seriously.

Second, from the poison gas clouds of World War I to the mushroom cloud of World War II to the data cloud today, clouds are telling historical markers. While writing the book, I would tell people I was writing about clouds, and they’d sometimes respond, Oh, I work in IT too! (The cloud metaphor, with its hints of benign oversight and calm flow, richly serves the ideological interests of the IT industry.) That the default meaning of “cloud” has become “server-based data storage” is a symptom of nature being absorbed by technology and technology becoming second nature. It is remarkable how casually we accept this monstrous hybrid of atmospheric aerosols and computing infrastructure without a second thought. Clouds are thus a symptom of what it is fashionable to call the anthropocene, the geological epoch in which human agency alters nature radically.

Third, clouds are an elemental background that surrounds us — and unnoticed environments are prime territory for media theory. A central point of the book is that if we define media as carriers of significance then media should include natural elements; studying aerosol clouds and data clouds side by side gives me a way to make this point.

Fourth, clouds raise two fundamental problems in media theory: how to record phenomena that exist in time and how to represent ones that do not conform to a symbolic system.

Regarding recording, the book is a meditation on how media capture and fail to capture time, and clouds are a good example of entities whose nature is to vanish. Clouds illustrate media ontology. Like sounds and music, clouds exist by disappearing. They exist in time. Clouds are highly material — just this morning so much rain dumped on southeastern Iowa as to trigger flashflood warnings again — and their dynamic materiality is suggestive for media under volatile digital conditions (probably one reason the cloud metaphor took hold so readily).

Regarding representing, clouds bear significance, but without any code to clarify what they mean. Their meanings are essentially vague. The history of cloud media, in painting and photography, is the struggle to capture sensuous objects that are also abstract. (The sky was painting abstract impressionist images long before humans did!) Clouds are the original white noise. Well before analog media such as film and sound recording broke the stranglehold of the symbolic in the late nineteenth century, painters struggled to depict cloud colors and forms, often with stunning results. The ability to represent the indefinite is one of the great achievements of modern mathematics and media, and clouds were at the vanguard here too. If you want to understand how meaning works, you have to understand vagueness, and clouds are a chief example.

Finally, clouds have long been associated with thinking, philosophizing and ultimate things, so they fit my atmospheric interests well. I know the title opens me up to wisecracks about academic loftiness. But in a world run by data-analytics Luftmenschen, it is good to get reacquainted with clouds and other kinds of sky media.

BRÍAN HANRAHAN: Why does the media culture of cetaceans, as you imagine it, play such a large role in your history of planetary technics? And what distinguishes your approach from previous thinking about the cetacean world? As you point out, dolphins and whales have long been subjects of utopian fantasy, as well as scientific communications research.

JOHN DURHAM PETERS: Cetaceans, the family of whales, porpoises, and dolphins, are often considered among the most intelligent animals on earth (especially dolphins), but they lack the infrastructures that anchor human existence such as feet, hands, fire, clothing, writing, right angles, celestial orientation, and all other forms of technology. Cetaceans thus present a kind of thought experiment about what it might be like to live in a technology-free habitat. Cetaceans could have techniques — say, of dancing, fishing, or communicating — but they could not have technologies, i.e., made materials that shape other materials, including their environments and minds. They live in habitats immune to fabrication, and thus offer a stark contrast to the human “technosphere,” our domesticated bubble of carbon and silicon, GMO crops and insulation. Intelligent marine mammals offer a radical alternative, at least in thought, to our essentially and externally technical history, and show us how much of what we take to be human depends on our technical supports."

[too much to quote]
johnduhampeters  matthomas  2015  interviews  media  feminism  clouds  cloud  infrastructure  hubris  cetaceans  anthropocene  technology  technosphere  technosolutionism  siliconvalley  writing  history  inderdisciplinary  silos  whitenoise  time  meaning  online  internet  tribalism  academia  mediatheory  slow  zoominginandout  multidisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  transdisciplinary 
july 2015 by robertogreco
What’s a Cyborg? | Quiet Babylon
"I want to present you with a different vision of cyborgs, one that derives in part from the work of feminist theorist Donna Haraway, author of A Cyborg Manifesto.

In it, she argues that we are all and have always been cyborgs, hybrid entities that combine biology, culture, and technology into a single blurry unit. Haraway wants to move away from the essentialist narratives of gender, race, and politics but in doing so, she ends up taking the rest of us along with her.

There has never been a moment when we did not integrate with tools.

Our tools define and shape us, they tell us who we are. We use them to extend our literal selves out into the world. When you get into an accident, you say “she hit me” not “her car hit me” and not “her car hit my car”.

We are embraced and enveloped by the technosphere and even if we try to escape and smash the system, we find we are part of it."
culture  cyborgs  technology  future  history  timmaly  quietbabylon  technosphere  tools  human  donnaharaway  hybrids  biology 
september 2010 by robertogreco

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