Technologies of Kindness and Cruelty


Ack. This is one that drives me a little batty. Technology — friend or foe? Well, neither, of course. It’s how the technology is used that determines its normative dimensions. Right?


Even in the world of clever, insightful, creative art-technology, you get practitioners saying things like this about RFID.

I’m not any more optimistic or worried about RFID than any other technology out there. Humans are capable of great kindness and cruelty. That is independent of any technology.

(From Regine’s interview with Doria Fan about her quite nice RFID-based objects. The full interview is here:

Why are such binaries even erected? They end up diminishing the fact that “technology” is a human endeavor always. It is no more independent of “humans” or social practice than anything else in the world that gets given meaning in our own terms. Is it just a technology without any human participation? Did it just up an appear in the world like an anonymous fart in the wind? Can you really be no more optimisitic or worried than anything that actually moved you to create? C’mon..get a hold of yourself.

Run the list. Nature? Did it just appear? Nothing that pre-exists us, despite what the atavists would like to believe. It’s entirely constituted and given meaning through our construction of knowledge about it (“science”); through the desire to relate, offset, contrast, etc. ourselves and our lives to it (“things would be better/worse if we ‘returned’ to nature”). And so on.

One consequence of believing that technology is independent of human social practice is that you loose track of the story about who is creating these things, for what purpose and with what consequence to their ability to shape and remake the world. If you don’t tell that story, you have not done your work. You don’t share credit with who is effectively your collaborators. You can no longer ignore their influence on your work than you could ignore the way your peers and mentors shape and make what you do possible. The story does not need to be an indictment, but it is a story without which the work done would not be possible.

Another consequences of believing that technology is independent of human social practice is that you loose your seat at the design table. You end up waiting for someone else (or some weird, independent machine that contains no humans, no beliefs, no ideologies and no selfish or selfless aspirations) to create things that you’ll then complain about, or accept blindly or love.

Technology? How can it be seen as something independent of the practice of humans? Did, say, RFID drop out of the sky one day? No. A bunch of very smart people got together and starting fussing with an idea they had. And they materialized it. They enrolled a bounty of powerful players in various industries and political lobbies and so forth to make it bigger than life. They talked to lots of people in manufacturing to try and figure out how to make millions and millions of various kinds of RFID tags, and detectors. They worked through standards for construction and allocation of identification codes, etc. People wrote books — technical books, trade books, warning books, instructional books.

How is this independent of human capabilities to do great kindness or great cruelty?

The greatest possible damage that can be done vis-a-vis technology and making more habitable, sustainable worlds is to imagine that technology is independent of human capabilities to do good or bad things. To say that technologies are value neutral and then say that it is how we use that particular technology misses the strongest possible case for justifying the occasionally provocative linking of art with technology. That is, to show how our things can be other than they are.

To disrupt the assumption that technologies are not made from often complex social-political-ideological-financial assemblages of the human kind. They may seem “trans-human” — as in a complex web of ideas, politics, money, far-flung manufacturing empires, overwhelmingly enormous projects, powerful financial enterprises all out of proportion to individual humans. But you cannot ever trace this without finding individual humans. Whether the gal on the factory floor hand-assembling some part that machines cannot. Or a venture capitalist in his fancy Freedom chair deciding whether it’ll be go or no-go for a new endeavor. These decisions and practices and hand-work are done for reasons and reasons are backed by normative assessments — what is this “thing” good for?

The disruptor — the art-technology creative, sometimes — is able to untangle what has been knotted together into a specific purpose. Perhaps we should call this person the denoer. The person who untangles knotty assemblages. It can be easier or hard to do the unknotting. Look at the edges and the fraying end-points, like this Google Advertisement. It shows pretty clearly who is participating and for what reason.

This is why “we” lobby for open instrumentalities, open-source, open-APIs, legible toolkits/communities. It’s so that the knot of influences that shape devices for particular purposes can be re-tied to say something else. And this process is much more about retying, about constituting a specific and perhaps different assemblage that is constituted based on a different set of normative goals.

But, the technology was never independent. RFID didn’t just grow from the ground. When you believe that, you loose the deep, human influences and political complexities that are latent within such things. You also loose track of all the problematic implications of new materialized ideas. You give up the possibility of changing or influencing what empires of human will do in fact create such things as RFID, and influencing them in a normative way — that is, influencing them to make things that do not scare you.

Art-technology is not only for the gallery. In fact, the gallery is no more than the first step in the influence creative practices should have in the endeavor of creating new feature sets for the worlds we occupy. Galleries are like Class 1 clean rooms for new ideas. These ideas should materialize in more rugged, designed form that purposely leak out into the world. Shame on the creative technologist who assumes their end-goal should be a gallery show. They should be aspiring to shape their ideas into something that influences or even creates a new enterprise that turns their ideas into world-changing/world-shaping designs that shape and influence and create more habitable, playful, sustainable worlds. Otherwise, it’s all empty ego.

Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that technology is not synonymous and deeply, inextricably imbricated with the social practice. Ever. You give up everything.
Continue reading Technologies of Kindness and Cruelty

Crossing all the wires: Cultural Engineering and Electrical Theory?


In order to do interdiscplinary work, it is not enough to take a ‘subject’ (a theme) and to arrange two or three sciences around it. Interdisciplinary study consists of creating a new object, which belongs to no one. Roland Barthes in “The Rustle of Language”(1)

With a background in multiple disciplines, it’s been an ongoing search to find a comfortable place where my practical and professional interests can operate. In most situations, one or more are either surpressed, discouraged or hidden to the point of not even mentioning this or that expertise. (Witness, as I did recently, several versions of my “human resources” style resume that does not mention a Ph.D.)

Under what circumstances might one be in a position to be un-disciplined? Another way of saying — how can a diversity of expertises, approaches, points-of-view and perspectives become actionable means for shaping material culture beyond the conventions that disciplinary norms enforce. By disciplinary norms, I mean the carefully plotted points-of-view and networks of knowledge (épistémè) creation and circulation that allow specific ways of “doing work” rather than others. Ways of doing work is a broad way of stating that disciplines are defined by what can be said, written, constructed, explained — and specifically by what instrumental, creative and normative means that is accomplished. Like the tradecrafts, there are well-defined things that specific disciplines take as “their problem” and their approach to defining and working on what that discipline stakes out as their problems.

Engineers, to be vague, have specific problems that they take on. Designing more energy efficient, green-disposable power sources, for example. Things get confusing if an engineer decides to work outside of, or stretch the boundaries of, their discipline, say by prioritizing the aesthetic rather than instrumental functionality of a circuit board design.

This ongoing search took me through enough disciplined environments to know that disciplinary work practices are far too efficient for innovation. Every gear in enterprise knows perfectly well what it’s supposed to do and what the linkages around it are meant to do to couple the system into a smooth, producing machine. If a gear decides that it’s going to start operating like a cam — well, that just can’t happen.

What do you do with an engineer’s obsession with making things and a cultural theorists passion for deeply understanding all the crazy new ways we have for creating, circulating and making culture? And what do you do when you want to cross all the wires and make cultural engineering projects with engineered theory?

Step 1. Pretend you don’t have a doctorate and just engineer stuff. Just make digital things and shrug absently when people ask you what you mean when you make off-hand references to Goffman and Foucault.

Step 2. Art-technology. The “Art” prefix — it opens up the possibility for discussions about culture to be invested in engineering work, which is a terribly brilliant and deceptively simple work-around. Ideally, at best, it allows the engineering of technology to be understood as a cultural practice, which it always has been. The hyphenation is a band-aid though for what should evolve into an entirely distinct undisciplined approach to materializing ideas beyond the confines of routine “product” manufacturing. What I mean is, in one scenario that would be awesome to consider, things-made are not least-common denominator sorts of routine objects. They are rich in their diversity and provoke one to curiosity, encourage new perspectives or ways of seeing the world. Rather than seeing the world as a place to be exhaustively photographed, for example, and making zillions of subtly varying but essentially identical digital cameras and shoving them in anything (like telephones) that do not already have cameras — what sorts of things-made would encourage me to do something else exhaustively — like monitor my consumption of unrenewable resources, for example?

I spent years in the dot-com where there was at least a small bit of opportunity space for exploring strange, new ideas with multi-talented and multi-disciplinary groups. I had a committed and earnest foraging within the art-technology world that the largesse of bloated dot-com enterprises bolstered.

I would like to go to the CES show one year and catalog as an explorer to a new land might, the product phylum. Would it be diverse and thick, or unsettingly flat and repetitive — “things that play sound”, “things that play sound and are black”, “things that play sound, are black, and also make telephone calls”.

Step 3. Academia. This could be a place — it turns out it isn’t, I’m just saying — where rigorous interdisciplinarity is practiced. My realization of the challenges here are best described with a story. One day early on I walked across campus to the engineering quad to see about using the machine shop there. There was one of those “we’ll be back” style clocks that indicated a short window of opportunity to get ahold of someone in there. I think it was about four hours a day. The doorbell to the shop door had been removed so I had to knock hard on the door. The knocking was answered by a shop guy. When I explained I was a professor from just across campus at another school, he only said — “I don’t know if we’re supposed to work with you.”

I knew what he meant — there was probably some allocation of resources from budget centers or whatever the hell, and that meant that there were only certain ways he could get paid, based on hours worked on specific job numbers or something similar. That’s the practical side of it. But, the systemic side is that, despite the lofty words in university presidents’ addresses, the institutions themselves have epic inertial forces that will not make them anything close to interdisciplinary. Definitely not when the research agendas from major support centers (Microsoft, NSF, Google) emphasize research that is strictly “pure” — a keyword for “back to basics” style disciplinarity. So long as universities have “schools” containing disciplines, their politics and squabbles and mud-wrestling over who gets what money and requisitions for jobs and crap — interdisciplinarity will remain a useful meme for five-year master plans and the like. What a mess.

I’m a bit skeptical these days about what interdisciplinarity is meant to accomplish, or has been able to accomplish. My criticism is that one sees work that has disciplinary terrains butting up against each other, and nothing transformative or unexpected. You can see the “statistics” influence with the “art component” — data visualization, for example, that creates meaning and has a refreshing legibility over pie charts, for example. In my mind there are entirely new practice idioms to be discovered that interdisciplinary won’t find. Interdisciplinarity creates hyphenated practices — art-technology; data-visualization. What I hope for are undisciplined ideas that transcend and create entirely new practices, new ways of thinking and new ways of seeing.

Academia was supposed to be the place where rigorous interdisciplinary practice can thrive, or at least be explored as a possible new way of creating and circulating culture of all sorts. This was a naive expectation, but I suspected a certain degree of naivity on my part. It’s difficult to get things done and expensive when you are able to find support. I enjoy quick sketches of ideas, rather than drawn out, epic, multi-year projects. I tend to work with very light infrastructures that do not need huge overheads. The Near Future Laboratory projects entail a few people, a computer or two, some low-cost components, writing our own code, open-source kits. There are no cyclotrons or gene sequences or tons of beakers and bunsen burners or huge administrative staffs or someone at the top who taxes your hard work by taking overhead expenses or anything.

I’ll just bullet the serious challenges academia poses to The Near Future Laboratories way of getting stuff done:

* Disciplinary despite the lip-service given to interdisciplinary. But even interdisciplinary is bunk — lots of walls exist on the ground, and interdisciplinarity is flawed philosophically.

* Innovation for me means probing existing boundaries, frameworks, ways of seeing the world, understanding for porousness. Disciplinarity hates porous borders.

* There’s little interest in probes and sketches. It’s either an epic project or nothing at all. The short incursions don’t count for much. I find them invigorating.

* You end up publish/sharing your work to about 500 people. At a pay-per-view conference that costs about $3000 to attend, all-in. I get more single-user visits on a blog post for a three weekend project that costs me $300 out-of-pocket to put together. No kidding. The old publishing/circulating practice is a dead skunk. And that it counts for “more” on the resume than knitting together new practice communities, developing soft toolkits through your blog and sharing insights, ideas and work as it happens rather than 8 months later — that just doesn’t make sense. And most of it is perpetually locked away in institutional journals that no one without a university affiliation will likely ever, ever see. No wonder academics question their relevancy — their institutions are still in the 19th century.

* You get peer reviewed by people who literally are not your peers.

* 36% overhead tax on every dollar you bring in to do your work.

Enough said.


Step 4. Design-Technology. That episode at the machine shop door emphasized the intractable nature of practicing undisciplined creative work in a setting with well-policied disciplinary schools. Some time after this episode, I happened to be at Art Center College of Design. There, while walking to a student’s studio, I came across their shop. It was a hive of activity — lots of students working on stuff. Shop supervisors were around and seemed eager to assist students. Most of all, I was drawn to the openness of the shop. It ran along a long corridor with a window showing you what was going on inside. It was a strong contrast to the other shop..with the door and the removed doorbell and the four hours a day of access.

Seeing this shop made me think about design — something about which I had only the barest of knowledge. I don’t really know what design is, other than the idea that there are designers who design things. There are practices like industrial design, furniture design, lighting design, and so forth. There are design schools where design is learned and taught. But, something was going on here, as I saw just on the surface in this shop. Things were being made; ideas were being explored and probed and materialized here.

Considering design broadly — still without knowing precisely what it is — that experience in early 2006 made me start to consider seriously how I could learn from design to broaden my practice. What was there in design that I could draw from to knit to my history and experience with engineering/technology/art/culture-theory? What would a hybrid, undisciplined design-technology-engineering-art-culture-theory practice look like?

I’m going to find out.
Continue reading Crossing all the wires: Cultural Engineering and Electrical Theory?

What You Model Is What You Get — Some Design Notes


"..the next order of business is to define design. The great American
modernist Charles Eames offered the following: ‘A plan for arranging
elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose’ (Eames,
1972). This definition situates design as a problem-solving discipline, with
problems here defined and solvable mostly within market contexts. The
1980s and the 1990s saw an explosion of ‘personal’ design to challenge this
problem-solving methodology, which brought about debates on everything
from legibility to the dissolving of the boundaries between art and design.
More recently, Serges Gagnon has referred to design as ‘the cultural
appropriation of technology’ (cited in De Winter, 2002); a phrase that,
while appealingly brief and particularly appropriate to a discussion of the
impact of the digital, is also so broad as to remind us that in many ways
design has become a category beyond categories. Marshall McLuhan used
the term ‘Gutenberg Galaxy’ to describe the effects of the printed book on
human culture (McLuhan, 1962). Astronomers group galaxies by clusters,
and I have claimed that now, we all live in the Design Cluster (Lunenfeld, 2003)"

"As computers allow us all to work beyond the page, we
will no doubt see a similar expansion and devaluation of industrial design
clusters as Glaser noted of graphic design. In other words, just as PostScript
printing software brought us WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), a
three-dimensional era of WYMIWYM (what you model is what you
manufacture) will soon be upon us."

"In an essay on the early modernist de Stijl movement and its potential
impact on media design, Jessica Helfand notes that ‘the opportunity to
define – even celebrate – precision lies at the heart of what [designers] can
and should do’ (Helfand, 2002). This attention to rigor, the desire to make
as well as consume, the modesty of service, the belief in beauty and pleasure
as beautiful and pleasurable in and of themselves, even the acceptance of its
position within market economies – all of these and more really situate
design as an exemplar for getting past the unresolved disputes of the 20th
century, and exploring what could really be ‘new’ about media design."

"From WYMIWYM to the globalization of Disney World, one could
construct a depressingly banal catalogue of the market-driven manifestations
of digitally-enabled design. What of more sanguine effects? Within this
digitization, is there potential to revive some of the utopian aspirations of
early 20th-century design? Is it worth reviving the idea that design should
codify and clarify the stuff of the world, making it easier for citizens…to determine decisions about their lives? Modern design was supposed to guide the citizen…through the
complexities of science, public policy, ideology, and even consumer choice in order to render decisions in coherent and rational ways. There is much there worth rehabilitating… What the computer, linked to a network, does to these issues is to expand both the range of makers and the nature of design’s audience, potentially creating a real public that understands, and in fact demands, a measure of social and environmental responsibility from the Design Cluster."

This, from Peter Lunenfeld’s insightful and brief essay “Media Design: New and Improved Without The New” (New Media & Society Vol6 No. 1 pp.65-70) These nuggets are helping me consider design broadly and understand, however briefly, some of the various perspectives and definitions and approaches that design has taken. I’m particularly intrigued by Peter’s WYMIWYM formulation adjunct to WYSIWYG. It’s kind of perfect and deserves some more fleshing-out.

De Winter, K. (2002) ‘Thoughts on Originality’, URL (consulted June 2003): http://

McLuhan, M. (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: the Making of Typographic Man. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press.

Lunenfeld, P. (2003) ‘The Design Cluster’, in B. Laurel (ed.) Design Research, pp.10–5.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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What Is Manufacturing in the Era of Design-Art-Technology?

Flavonoid Primitive Sketch

(Essay for Share Festival Catalog 2008)

(Here is my slide presentation, relate to the essay below. But, I did not read this essay at the festival, rather it was printed in the festival catalog.)

There are a few things to say about manufacturing, design and digital arts. First, we’re not talking about manufacturing. Manufacuring is about making things on a large scale using machinery. Manufacturing evokes cavernous, cold, awesomely huge assembly lines with scales all out of proportion to the experiences of mere mortals. Factory floors throwing sparks, littered with metal shavings, huge overhead cranes moving impossibly large masses of steel – this is what manufacturing means. Half million ton crude oil-carrying super tankers are manufactured. The Airbus 380 is manufactured. Millions of Herman Miller Aeron Chairs are manufactured. Billions of cellular phones are manufactured. These things have meaning in the idiom of manufacturing. Manufacturing is the engine of growth and dispair of the 20th century.

If anything, we’re talking about a kind of materialization of ideas. Slick connections between an your imagination, a circuit board and a 3D printer. It’s artful for its scale and personalization. Small-scale, passionate, individual ideas made material. Why is this different from manufacturing? Because manufacturing deals in enormous scales – scales of time, material, logistics, operational fortitude, finances, consumption of natural resources. Ultimately, manufacturing endeavors are impossible imbroglios of spin-doctors and reassurances, speculation, trust and hope as much as they are supply-train logistics and CAD systems. Just ask the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” team. Is it advanced avionics and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic skins or spin-control and renegotiated contracts that’ll make that perpetually delayed endeavor a success?

The sad consequences of manufacturing’s scale is that it defaults to the least common denominator. Manufacturing on a mass scale can only be an effective business enterprise when you make one thing that millions and millions of people are convinced they need to buy. Customization as a manufacturing process has not moved much beyond Henry Ford’s Model T color option – you can have any color, so long as it’s black. An iPod is an iPod is an iPod, hand-painting and laser etching not withstanding. True customization means materializing one’s own designs, one’s own imagination. This is where we begin.


What we are talking about are emerging “materialization” – not manufacturing – processes. What makes it worth talking about is that it is the power of creation that manufacturing is able to achieve, but done at an entirely different scale – quicker, cheaper, individually, with fewer intermediaries and fewer incumberances. This is the crucial element – there are fewer and less awkward hurdles, deals, negotiations and alliances to be formed in the process of materializing an idea. The power of the idea and its “moment” is not lost through the trials of enrolling people, machines, enterprises, financiers into your cause. It’s as if a sketch in a notebook can materialize immediately. No more fumbling around with awkward descriptions of your weird idea – let the material object speak for you.

What else can be said about this different kind of idea-manufacturing? How does it integreate with design and digital arts? It relies on “toolkits” consisting of digital software and hardware, fab machines, CNC “Robodrills” and 3D modeling. As importantly, the toolkits are also the far-flung networked communities of craftspeople and designers, artists and technologists sharing ideas and insights. The practical tradecraft starts from the bottom and works its way up. We’re familiar with the elements of this process, and the activities taking place in various corners of the digital arts and art-technology communities. This is an emerging practice informally taken up by thoughtful designer-tinkerers. It is a practice that will find greater adoption within more formal and conservative design, engineering and art communities as its significance is refined.

The “tooling” for this practice includes open-source firmware for inexpensive microcontroller-based kits like the Arduino; hacked Nintendo Wii controllers; low-cost, rapid-turnaround printed circuit board production houses; free development environments like Processing; online knowledge sharing communities; parts suppliers with no minimum orders, and so forth.


The “manufacturing process” is a kind of extended sketching activity. Ideas are first expressed informally, perhaps with a simple “wouldn’t it be cool if..?” question at a moment of inspiration. But the question should be answered – and it can be, often enough, with a quick pen drawing, some poking around the net for practical answers or to source some parts or other material – perhaps even finding other people who have asked the same question and thereby entering into conversations with all the other similarly inspired folks out there on the networks. In short order a refined, functional technology engine is created using small-scale surface mount printed circuit board techniques so as to fit within the refined contours of a fab’d surface model. Now you have a fully functioning materialization of your idea – much easier to answer that initial question with the real-deal. You can share it, put it in other people’s hands and work through the nuances of your idea.

What does this all mean for an emerging design-art-technology practice? At present, the evidence of something compelling centered around new interactions is indicated by a richly stocked cabinet of curios – expressive artifacts and objects that, like early Net Art, stitch together inputs and create expressive outputs. Only — and this is important – they do so off the computer screen, and with no keyboard and mouse. Rather, these expressive objects form their interactivity around physical actions that may include the Nabaztag’s articulating rabbit-like ears, or Clocky the coy alarm clocks that roll away when you try to hit the snooze button, or Maywa Denki’s punch-drunk dancing BitMan character. These are distinct kinds of digital objects that mix physical space, digital technology and design.

Engelbart Mouse Patent

We know that the art of digital media continues to emphasize the screen, the keyboard, the mouse and the network. The weak signals suggest kinds of design-art-technology that are growing tired of the screen. Digital art is ready to move beyond the confines that Douglas Englebart and his contemporaries created in 1968 with their patent line drawing depicting the now canonical assembly of keyboard, screen and mouse. If there is a “new materiality” to digital arts, it will emphasize material interactions in physical space, embodied experiences and contexts beyond the typically sedentary confines of the screen/keyboard/mouse/network assemblage.

For this new process to do something new, it must become a ployglot practice steered by undisciplinary craftspeople who believe in the possibility of creating fictional, unbelieveable, even preposterous objects that say as much about what they’re moving away from – the uninspired, least-common denominator landfill-destined plastic device – as they say about what sort of near future world we could have. What is emerging is an ability to make your own stuff – not just “skinning” your mobile or modding an MP3 player. Materializing ideas is about making your own – “whatever” – unanticipated, unknow, visionary, expressive things. It is not a manufacturing process. This is a process that requires multiple perspectives and multiple skills thoroughly mixing engineering-design-art into a hybrid sensibility. It is a process that’s strictly for trouble-makers and boundary crossers. Nothing expected and everything unexpected will come from this.

Continue reading What Is Manufacturing in the Era of Design-Art-Technology?

Urban Computing As Fried Eggs

Via Fabien on the 7.5th Floor, I came across an illustration by Karen Martin starting to map the field of Urban Computing. It’s not a field, of course — closer to a large set of intersecting practices and broader disciplines swirling about those practices. Two things to be said. First about visualizations and illustrations of complex social-practice-fields. Second about urban computing (whatever that is, and whyever that is.)

What I find most compelling here is the absence — difficult to capture, to be sure — of the messiness that is definitely part of what is referred to as “urban computing”, which I wouldn’t even try to define, except in a rather messy diagram, much messier than Karen’s valiant work.

Knots, intersections, tangles and generally messy illustrations are, I’m sure, very unpopular, particularly with design’s general fetish of clean lines and the Tufte aesthetic of making complex visualizations all tidy and Tufte.

I’m not an illustrator or visualization guy by any stretch, but I’m much more agreeable, and prone to appreciate the messy illustration of what are complex engagements of social practices. This was my one effort to represent the military-industrial light and magic complex — the swirl of history, time, politics, national security and the entertainment enterprise. No attempt to be orderly and legible in the Tufte sense of things. It’s a complex “eco-system” with layers and knots and disorderly eddies (not flows..please..) of power and aspiration and money. Why organize that with bullets and linear connections? Simplifications erase the beast, leaving just shards of bone to be imaginarily cobbled back into a fictitious whole. What produces meaning, in my mind, is not so much names of practices, or companies or individual participants, but rather the ways in which the imbroglios form, power is manipulated and deployed — the process of deploying “resources” to create the names and to give them “stickiness” and the holding power that then makes them, you know — a “given.”

Latour sums this notion up eloquently, and there’s lots more to be said, at some other time, I’m sure.

“..we do not find all explanations in terms of inscription equally convincing,
but only those that help us to understand how the mobilization and mustering of new
resources is achieved. We do not find all explanations in terms of social groups, interests or economic trends, equally convincing but only those !that offer a specific mechanism to sum up “groups”, “interests”, “money”!and “trends”: mechanisms which, we believe, depend upon the manipulation of paper, print, images and so on.” [“Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together”].

Military Industrial Light and Magic Complex

In an “urban computing” terrain map, the intersections should likely be much more harried and knotted. And, I would consider the an additional axis — the goals, motivations and aspirations of the various practices here. Why an urban computer? What is it about urban space that requires computation? To what ends? To further the unyielding databasing and digital networking of the world? (The Google?)

And when will “computer” be just replaced by “Google”? Like..the Urban Google?

Why do I blog this? Strong interest in considering the city and urban space in the digital age and its evolution as the age “matures.” Also, I’m interested in how to divest these “fields” of the “computing” word, which hardly makes sense to mention any more. Why does it persist? It’s like the Henny Youngman-style one-liner about the buffoon who asks if he can get the web on his computer.

The Fried Egg Diagram

Piemonte Share Festival — "Manufacturing"


Super excited. Next week on Saturday at 2pm I will be speaking at the Share Festival in Torino.

The many conferences of the festival are delving into all kinds of variations of the overall “manufacturing” theme: Manufacturing Cultural Projects; Manufacturing the Streets; Dramatic Manufacturing; Manufacturing Intelligence; Manufacturing Robots; A Manifesto for Networked Objects; Manufacturing Digital Art; Manufacturing Future Designs; Manufacturing Consent; and Is Life Manufacturable?

Speakers and guests are many, including Montse Arbelo, Andrea Balzola, Massimo Banzi, Luis Bec, Gino Bistagnino, Julian Bleecker, Chiara Boeri, Stefano Boeri, PierLuigi Capucci, Stefano Carabelli, Antonio Caronia, Paolo Cirio, Gianni Corino, Lutz Dammbeck, Luca De Biase, Kees de Groot, Hugo Derijke, Giovanni Ferrero, Fabio Franchino, Joseba Franco, Piero Gilardi, Owen Holland, Janez Jansa, Nicole C. Karafyllis, Maurizo Lorenzati, Mauro Lupone, Giampiero Masera, Motor, Ivana Mulatero, Daniele Nale, Anne Nigten, Donald Norman, Marcos Novak, Gordana Novakovic, Giorgio Olivero, Claudio Paletto, Luigi Pagliarini, Katina Sostmann, Stelarc, Bruce Sterling, Pietro Terna, Franco Torriani, and Viola van Alphen.

Manufacturing – Guest Curator: Bruce Sterling :: March 1-16, 2008 :: Torino, Italy.

The theme for the 2008 edition, which will dominate the contents of the conferences, round tables, workshops and performances, is the new materiality of digital arts. In the 90s the net art phenomenon addressed a need to reach beyond its own limits, drawing immateriality into the equation and threatening the real. Nowadays, society relates to technologies in a natural way by allowing the immaterial to become real. By exploring new, intelligent interaction between man and machine, this relationship has been completely integrated into everyday life. In the new millennium man and machine interact on the same level, shaping and changing the surrounding environment as they see fit. The Piemonte Share Festival is an international cultural event that probes the vast panorama of new technologies and investigates their applications in art and design.

Because of recent advances in digital fabrication technology, manufacturing is becoming a digital art and culture enterprise. The exciting advent of 3-D printing, rapid prototyping, and rapid manufacturing is of profound importance to SHARE, for it bring the power to create physical objects to the techno-artist’s lab-bench, studio and atelier. It means that digital artists, whose work was once mostly virtual, can create in the actual.

SHARE has chosen the theme Manufacturing for its 2008 event for two compelling reasons. First, we want to demonstrate digital manufacturing to our core audience, who are very technically adept people, but not used to the idea that they can create real objects with CAD, fabricators and the Internet. The second reason is that Torino is the World Capital of Design 2008. Torino is a strong manufacturing center. SHARE is very international in its outlook and audience, but in 2008 this Torino festival should and will emphasize the fact that it is from Torino.

Convergence CfP — Special Issue on Digital Cultures and California: Extended Submission Deadline


This call invites submissions for a special issue related to and about digital cultures of California. Internationally, California is a phenomenon in terms of its relationship to creating, consuming and reflecting upon the era of digital technologies. From the legendary garage entrepreneurs, to the multi-billion dollar culture of venture capital, to stock back-dating scandals, to the epic exodus of California’s IT teams during the Burning Man festival, this state plays an important role in the cultures of digital technologies.


All research articles are refereed and should be between 7000 — 10000 words in length.

We also welcome submission of debates (1500 – 3000 words) or Feature Reports (3000 – 4000 words)

The Bay Area of California (often referred to somewhat incorrectly as Northern California) is often perceived as a hot-bed of technology activity. Silicon Valley serves as a marker for the massive funding of enterprises that shape many aspects of digital culture. The new interaction rituals that have come to define what social life has become in many parts of the world can often be traced back to this part of the state. New forms of presence awareness and digital communication such as Twitter and Flickr have found a comfortable home in the Bay Area. Complimenting the Bay Area’s activities in “social software” is Southern California — Los Angeles in particular — where Hollywood sensibilities bring together entertainment with technology through such things as video games and 3D cinema.

California is also the home of several colleges and universities where digital technologies are developed in engineering departments and reflected upon from social science and humanities departments. This curious relationship between production and analysis creates the promise of insightful interdisciplinary approaches to making culture. Many institutions have made efforts to combine engineering and social science practices to bolster technology design. Xerox PARC probably stands as the canonical example of interdisciplinary approaches to digital technology design. Similarly, combining arts practices with technology as a kind of exploratory research and development has important precedent at places like PARC and at the practice-based events such as the San Jose California-based Zero One festival and symposium.

In this special issue we welcome submissions which investigate, provoke and explicate the California digital cultures from a variety of perspectives. We are interested in papers that approach this phenomenon in scholarly and practice-based ways.

* What are the ways that social networks have been shaped by digital techniques?

* How has the phenomenon of the digital entrepreneur evolved in the age of DIY sensibilities?

* What are the ways that “new ideas” succeed or fail based on their dissemination amongst the elite, connected digerati, as opposed to their dissemination amongst less more quotidian communities?

* What is the nature of the matrix of relationships between Hollywood entertainment, the military and digital technology?

* Can the DIY culture explored in the pages of Make magazine produce its own markets?

* How does the Apple Inc. culture of product design and development shape and inform popular culture?

* How have the various interdisciplinary approaches undertaken at corporate research centers connected to universities such as Intel Berkeley Labs shaped digital cultures?

Contact for further information: Julian Bleecker (julian at nearfuturelaboratory com)