2005 4S (Society for the Social Studies of Science) Conference – STS Meets New Media

Mimi Ito organized a series of panels at this year’s 4S conference (Society for the Social Studies of Science), held in Pasadena. I proposed a paper on Locative Media that I had titled Landscape as Interface: How Creative Uses of the Global Positioning System Enable Location Aware Media. I didn’t have much of an idea as to what that would become, other than I was thinking that this would be continuous with my research vectors on locative media. When I prepared the talk, I decided that this would be a good way to spin-up my thinking on dislocation — ways in which various forms of (mostly electronic) communications/networking social infrastructures make tectonic, geographical alterations on the landscape.

I’m still figuring where this goes. My preliminary thinking is going on my research wiki. I’m particularly interested in how things like VOIP systems like Vonage which is designed to connect to the traditional, hardline telephone terminal, and to a lesser degree, Skype, are transitioning what used to be a very geographically oriented communications and social medium into one that is geographically untethered.

One other presentation I particularly enjoyed was by
David Stark who presented some work that he and his colleague Verena Paravel have been doing on PowerPoint. The title of the talk was Click to add title: PowerPoint Demonstrations and the New Economy of Persuasion.

I found this really engaging, partly because I’m fascinated with the various practices that circulate around the PowerPoint grail. Stark, ironically enough, had an enormous PowerPoint deck — over 50 slides. But he only had 15 minutes to present. So..there’s that. Which in a self-reflective way is one of the typical PowerPoint gaffs — over presenting.

Stark circulated a few useful nuggets. One was the way [w:PowerPoint] was used during the presentation of designs for the “[w:Freedom Tower]” in New York City. He described how w:PowerPoint was used in one of the entries to transform the existing cavity into a renewed space by starting with satellite imagery and gradually filling it in as an illustration. The transformation made for a persuasive presentation.

Then he described [w:Colin Powell]’s use of PowerPoint to the [w:UN Security Council] when the Bush Administration was lobbying that sanctions and war were necessary against Iraq. The exciting nugget about that part of Stark’s presentation was the historical analog to [w:Adlai Stevenson]’s flip chart presentation to the UN Security Council during the [w:Cuban Missle Crisis]. What Stark showed was the same sort of visual argument as used in the Stevenson presentation — I mean, it’s a very compelling parallel, even down to the kinds of imagery used to persuade.

Why do I blog this? I wanted to capture a few notes from the 4S panels and provide a place holder for the presentation I gave. I also really enjoyed Stark’s presentation — it made me think of the time I was working at a crazy brand marketing consultancy called Sterling Group (now Sterling Brands) that was pretty well neurotic, incestuous and insane, and the neurosis and insanity was well-represented by the presentation group, which was a small fiefdom that held sway over all presentation preparation. Now, I must say, they made very pretty presentations, mostly using PowerPoint, and they’d print out and bind these “decks” so you’d have “leave-behinds” for your prospective client. But, boy — did these folks take their job seriously. Everyone had to jockey for their place in the agency’s “value chain”, which meant that the closer you were to making rain, the better. The closer, followed by the guy with the lead, followed by the design team, and so on. And the PowerPoint guys did their best to be close to the, well..closer. It all makes sense, of course, but the way they fabricated their ontological position within the organization was worthy of a close, ethnographic investigation into the practice of turning tin into gold.

And the whole practice of making meaning so as to make action is what this persuasion angle is about, I believe.